East Carolina fought and clawed Thursday night at Minges Coliseum, but could not prevail due in large part to Jay Hook’s three-point shooting prowess.
The junior sharpshooter buried back-to-back triples with the Green Wave trailing 49-48 and swished another that put the game away, despite ECU shooting guard Paris Roberts-Campbell forcing him to a fade-away attempt at the shot-clock buzzer.
Behind Hook’s game-high 17 points, Tulane (11-9, 3-2 Conference USA) held on to a 59-54 road victory.
“It wasn’t like any of the guys missed an assignment. The kid just knocked down two tough shots and it’s hard to recover from that,” said ECU forward Michael Zangari.
The Pirates (11-8, 0-4 C-USA) have now lost six of their last seven games and their last three at Minges Coliseum. They held their opposition under 60 points for the first time – against Division I competition – this season, but mustered just four field goals from three-point range (4-for-20) and turned over the ball 14 times.
“It’s a tough night. We had our chances,” said ECU coach Jeff Lebo. “With five minutes left in the game, we couldn’t make the plays. But give them credit, they made them. Hook makes three 3’s (after) he hadn’t made one all night and he makes three really timely ones.”
“We didn’t have enough fire power tonight,” Lebo said. “Our confidence, offensively, is not there.”
Zangari was ECU’s only post-player to see action against the Green Wave. Freshman forward Brandan Stith was dressed, but sat out due to concussion-like symptoms he suffered at Florida International last weekend. Lebo said Stith’s status is day-to-day as the Pirates prepare for a quick turnaround Saturday.
One of the team’s reserves,walk-on Francis Edosomwan, provided ECU a spark it desperately needed in the first half. The Pirates trailed 19-7, following a 12-2 Green Wave run, before they recovered.
The under-sized, 6-foot-3 junior was active on the glass – running down four offensive rebounds to energize his team and the home crowd. ECU strung together a 16-5 run, capped by a Caleb White dunk, to jump back into the lead 25-24.
On the Pirates’ next possession, Edosomwan tracked down an offensive board and hit White, who completed a three-point play.
“(Edosomwan) was great. There is not a guy that works any harder every day than him,” said Lebo, smiling. “His effort was contagious out there … and I thought that energy he gave us, particularly in the first half, was big for us to have that first-half lead.”
Akeem Richmond’s 11 points and three first-half 3-pointers paced ECU to 32-28 halftime lead.
However, Richmond was held scoreless in the second half until draining a 3-pointer in the game’s closing moments. He finished tied for a game-high 14 points with White.
Both teams could not create much in the opening stages of the second half. Lebo threw a variation of different looks defensively at the Green Wave, who went 11 minutes and 43 seconds without a field goal dating back to the 4:53 mark of the first half.
“They were doing a great job of mixing their defenses and we had a little bit of a rhythm (prior to the slump),” said Tulane coach Ed Conroy. “Our guys, as the game went on, just felt more and more comfortable with how they were switching their defenses and we started moving more.”
Freshman forward Payton Henson ended the scoring drought with a lay-up at the 13:07 mark that trimmed ECU’s lead to 35-32.
Soon after, Tulane recaptured the lead, 46-45, on Kevin Thomas’ controversial dunk that appeared to be scored after the shot-clock expired. The Pirates turned it over on the their ensuing possession and Hook made them pay with a lay-up.
Zangari provided some of the answers offensively – scoring back-to-back baskets to give ECU a 49-48 advantage with 3:13 remaining – but his minutes were limited after he picked up his second and third personal fouls early in the second half.
Then, Hook took over the game down the stretch. He scored 13 points inside the last six minutes of the game to help put the Green Wave about .500 in C-USA-play.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Pirates. They will remain at home to face one of C-USA’s premier teams, Southern Miss (17-3, 4-1 C-USA), Saturday at Minges Coliseum. Tip-off time is set for 7 p.m.
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