East Carolina (11-7, 0-3 Conference-USA) failed to find its first conference win during its South Florida trip. The Pirates dropped a close, 68-64 decision to Florida International (10-9, 2-2 C-USA) Saturday night.
Paris Roberts-Campbell led the scoring effort for the Pirates with 15 points. He also grabbed five boards and dished out seven assists. Michael Zangari had 14 points before fouling out. Caleb White (11 points) and Antonio Robinson (10 points) also scored double digits.
It didn’t look like it would be a close game in the opening minutes. ECU jumped to an early 14-6 lead, but FIU responded with a 7-0 run to come within a point. The Pirates jumped ahead to 20-13 with over 11 minutes left in the first half, but wouldn’t see another lead that large for the remainder of the contest.
In the end, though, FIU converted on opportunities while ECU didn’t—especially in the second half.
In the latter 20 minutes, ECU all but gift wrapped points for the Panthers. FIU scored 11 points on turnovers and another six off of second chances.
Even more remarkable was the collapse of ECU’s interior defense in the second half. Giving up chances down low was a major Achilles’ heel throughout ECU’s first two conference games. Old Dominion had 50 points in the paint last Saturday and Florida Atlantic had 30 on Thursday.
It seemed that the Pirates righted the ship in that regard. They only gave up eight points in the paint in the first 20 minutes of play. Then they came out in the second half and surrendered 28 points down low.
ECU used the 2-3 zone throughout the game and it forced FIU to take a lot of poor shots from the
FIU also dominated the rebounding battle. Rakeem Buckles, who is the best rebounder in C-USA, grabbed 12 boards. Brandan Stith entered the game just behind Buckles as the conference’s No. 2 rebounder, but left the game early with an injury. He only had two rebounds.
Even though the defense’s collapse put the game out of reach, ECU’s offense didn’t accomplish what was expected.
Akeem Richmond, coming off a 20-point night on Thursday at FAU, only scored nine points against the Panthers. Four Pirates finished with more points than him.
FIU’s offense lived up to its expectations. The senior duo of Tymell Murphy and Rakeem Buckles accounted for 18 points apiece and combined for 19 rebounds.
It looked like ECU’s basketball team struggled the same way its football team did when it traveled to play FIU. With only 1,106 people in attendance, the basketball players had to create their own energy just like the football players did.
ECU returns home to continue the search for its first conference win in Minges Coliseum. The Pirates will host Tulane on Thursday and Southern Miss on Saturday.