The East Carolina men’s basketball team covered territory in the 2012-2013 season that was unprecedented for the program in its previous 81 years of existence.
Tying the school record for wins in a single season (23-12), totaling the most conference wins during its tenure in Conference USA (9-7) and capturing the program’s first postseason tournament title in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament are just a few to name.
It didn’t look like any of the team’s postseason aspirations were a possibility when they trailed Savannah State by as many as 15 points in the second half of its first round game of the CIT inside Minges Coliseum. Miraculously, the tide turned and the Pirates rallied to win by the narrowest of margins, 86-85.
The dramatic come-from-behind win was a spring-board for ECU, as its energized home crowds were treated to three consecutive victories by double-figures that advanced them into the tournament’s championship game Tuesday in Ogden, Utah, against the hosting Weber State Wildcats (30-7).
Going into the game, Weber State had only lost one game on its home floor and was on the winning side of 17 of its last 18 contests.
A championship looked even more unlikely for ECU when they trailed 71-65 with 2:55 left to play. The Pirates responded with a 12-3 that was capped by a game-winning triple by Akeem Richmond as time expired to clinch the CIT title, 77-74.
Head coach Jeff Lebo has now led ECU to two winning seasons in his first three campaigns at the helm. This following a stretch of fourteen years that haven’t seen the team finish above .500.
With a new state-of the-art basketball facility expected to be ready before next season and the school transitioning into the American Athletic Conference in 2014, this year’s tournament run may be seen as a turning point in the evolution of the basketball program.
It was speculated in the preseason that the Pirates could reach its first 20 win season since joining Division-I and early on in the season, they reaffirmed expectations by winning their first five games.
If that wasn’t enough to silence its critics, ECU went into Chapel Hill on Dec. 15 to face Lebo’s almer mater, North Carolina inside the Dean Smith Center. Trailing 42-26 at halftime, the Pirates scored 61 points in the second half and were within four points with less than a minute to play, but fell short 93-87.
In defeat, those 61 points were the most the Tarheels have given up in a half of basketball since Roy Williams took over as the team's head coach.
ECU rounded out its non-conference slate with a 9-3 record and began Conference USA play with a difficult first month that included Memphis twice, UCF, and Houston.
In one of the most memorable games at Minges Coliseum in recent memory, the Pirates trailed the UCF Knights by 17 points with 11:33 left in the game and stormed all the way back to force overtime. In the extra session, senior Corvonn Gaines hit a three-pointer with less than a second remaining on his only shot attempt of the game to seal an 88-85 ECU win.
Down the home stretch of the conference season, the Pirates began playing their best basketball of the year, winning four of their last five games to seal a bye in the first round of the C-USA Tournament as the No. 4 seed.
Facing the hosting Tulsa Golden Hurricane, ECU let a late lead get away and behind a 16-7 run in the game’s final three minutes, Tulsa escaped 79-72.
Here are some more of the milestones that were achieved:
-Most home wins in a single season, (17).
-Program win No. 1000 at Alabama-Birmingham (1/23/2013).
- First postseason tournament win against Savannah State (3/19/2013).
-Most three-pointers made in a single season, Akeem Richmond, (105)
-Most assists in a single season, Miguel Paul, (236)
-Head coach Jeff Lebo’s career win No. 250 vs. Saint Andrews (12/4/2012).
-MADE UP STAT: Most Sportcenter Top 10 appearances in ten days or less, (3).