Old Dominion came into Minges Coliseum and wore out East Carolina Saturday night with its tandem of dynamic guards.
Keenan Palmore and Aaron Bacote got whatever they wanted at the rim, combining for 41 points, to steer the Monarchs (7-9) past the Pirates (11-5) comfortably, 81-70, in both teams’ Conference USA opener.
Time and time again, Palmore worked around a ball screen and found holes in ECU’s interior defense on his way to a game-best 23 points. He finished 11-of-13 shooting with seven of his baskets coming on lay-ups.
“It was a tough game for us, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Palmore dominated the game and their guards got into the painted area,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “We tried to mask our inability to defend the ball, but they exposed it tonight at the guard spots.”
ODU scored 50 points as a team in the paint alone and took control in the second half behind its leading scorer, Bacote.
Similar to the way Palmore got to the basket with ease, the 6-4 sophomore supplied 14 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes to help secure the team’s second road win of the year and the program’s first as a member of C-USA.
With ODU clinging to 51-50 lead, Bacote attacked the rim on three consecutive possessions and scored eight unanswered points, which included a pair of three-point plays.
The spurt provided the Monarchs a cushion they wouldn’t relinquish as the Pirates only came as close as seven points of tying ODU in the final 12 minutes.
“They were big plays,” Lebo said of the run. “He slithered in there and finished around the rim area. We had chances even down the stretch, (but) we had some turnovers, missed a couple three pointers and we missed a couple opportunities at the rim.”
Paris Roberts-Campbell broke out of his recent scoring slump in the first half by putting up 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He mustered just two points the rest of the game and was forced to leave the game twice due to cramps.
“Paris Campbell, in the first half, kind of thwarted our defensive plan,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said. “He was terrific in that first half, but over the course of the game I think (we) did a terrific job.”
Senior reserve Petar Torlak was one of the lone bright spots for ECU. After sitting out the last five games, he drilled four 3’s for a career high 12 points and almost single-handedly kept the Pirates within striking distance in the second half.
Now he hopes his emergence on Saturday night will result in more playing time as the conference season goes on.
“I’m just trying to help the team when I get in and use my minutes to shoot the ball and do whatever I can,” he told reporters.
The two teams will meet again in their regular season finales on March 6. However, that meeting will be Norfolk, Va. ECU will begin its two-game road trip next Thursday night against another new member of C-USA, Florida International. Tip-off time is set for 7 p.m.