Richmond Shines On Senior Night

Akeem Richmond (Photo by Kat Jessick)

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- ECU (16-13, 5-9 C-USA) shooting guard Akeem Richmond's 27 points paced the Pirates to a 75-68 victory against Charlotte (14-13, 5-9 C-USA) Thursday.

East Carolina Head Coach Jeff Lebo described Thursday night's victory at Minges Coliseum as a "storybook finish" for one of the most prolific scorers in the program's history. Senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond poured in eight 3-pointers for 27 points to dazzle the crowd and lead the Pirates past the Charlotte 49ers 75-68 on "Senior Night."

With the game already in hand, Lebo gave Richmond a curtain call by pulling him with 18 seconds left in his last home regular season game and the crowd responded with a standing ovation and chanted his name.

"I tried not to think about it, and had to block all of that out and (make) it a regular game," Richmond told reporters after the game, "but I'm feeling it right now, especially when I walked off the court. I wanted to cry like a little baby."

ECU (16-13, 5-9 Conference USA) has won three straight games – a feat that hasn't been accomplished against Division I competition this season – and snapped its two-game skid against Charlotte (14-13, 5-9 C-USA).

The Pirates are one victory away from clinching consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 17 years and ensured Thursday that they would not finish with a below-.500 record.

"It could have been easy with all the adversity that the team has had to go the other way and a lot of teams go the other way. This team refused to do that," said Lebo. "Our goal was to have a winning season and most people, when I said that, looked at me like I was on some narcotics."

Junior point guard Antonio Robinson tied his career-high of 15 points off the bench and netted seven of his 10 free throw attempts – many of which were in key moments down the stretch – to provide the Pirates a third scoring option behind Richmond and Caleb White.

But similar to last Saturday's victory against Rice, the win did not come easily for ECU, despite owning a considerable first-half lead. The Pirates jumped all over Charlotte, which came out of the gate sluggish – hitting just one of its first 10 field goal attempts – and led 21-2 after a 15-0 run.

"I think the guys might have gotten a little shell-shocked there," said Charlotte coach Alan Major," but once guys settled down and kind of shook off the 'tweedy bird' around their heads, I thought they really competed."

The 49ers slowly recovered by attacking ECU's zone defense with their talented point guard Pierria Henry, who finished with a team-best 20 points. Charlotte went on a 13-3 spurt that trimmed the deficit to just nine points – 24-15 – before Richmond drained back-to-back 3-point jumpers to push the Pirates' lead back to 30-15.

ECU seemed to be comfortable again in the second half, owning a 46-36 advantage with 13:38 remaining in a game. But, collectively, it went cold as a team – not hitting a field goal in over five minutes – and allowed Charlotte back into the game.

Behind Henry and the three-point shooting prowess of Denzel Ingram, the 49ers scored the next nine points and tied the game, 50-50, on sophomore forward Willie Clayton's first basket of the night to complete a 15-1 run.

However, the Pirates did not surrender the lead and it was only fitting that on "Senior Night" Richmond would hit the biggest shot of the night.

Clinging to a one-point lead, Richmond was opened up in the corner, after a perfectly set screen by freshman Brandan Stith underneath, and drained the last of his eight 3's. The shot put ECU in front 64-60 with 3:53 left on the clock.

"I moved for at least 25 seconds, base-line to base-line to base-line, and finally (Henry) made a mistake and (Stith) set a great screen for me and I was wide open and knocked it down. We really needed that bucket, so I was estatic," said Richmond.

The Pirates sealed the deal by going 10-for-12 from the free throw line from that point on. As a team, they were 21-of-28 on foul shots, while Charlotte attempted just six throughout the entire game (4-6).

Along with Richmond, seniors Petar Torlak and Erin Straughn were recognized before the opening tip. ECU returns to action Sunday against Marshall. Tip-off time is set for 2 p.m. from Huntington, W. Va.

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