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Pirates drop AAC road opener

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ECU's Caleb White pushes through SMU players during their game Saturday, Dec. 31st, 2016.

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The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

East Carolina was almost able to overcome its prolonged shooting funk at Central Florida on Tuesday, but the Pirates’ inability to make shots from the field and the free throw line led to their second consecutive loss.

ECU’s 48-45 setback in Orlando featured an improbable Pirate comeback in the final minutes thanks to a 16-1 run capped by a Kentrell Barkley 3-pointer that made it 40-38 with 1:23 left to play.

Two B.J. Tyson baskets, a 3 with 21 seconds to go and a driving layup at the 8.2-second mark, cut UCF’s lead to two twice more, but Matt Williams hit a free throw with 6.4 ticks remaining and Tyson’s try from beyond the arc rimmed out at the final buzzer.

East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo probably wants to forget his team’s offensive numbers — 16-of-60 from the field and 6-of-16 from the free throw line — but he praised the Pirates’ defense, which limited the Knights (12-3, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) to 12-of-46 shooting from the field, including 3-of-17 from 3.

“Defensively, you can’t do a game plan any better than what we did tonight,” Lebo said in his postgame interview on WNCT-FM 107.9. “You can’t ask the guys to do any more (defensively) than what they did tonight. ... We learned a valuable lesson, I think, about, if you’re not good offensively on a given night, if you continue to work defensively and rebound a little bit, it’s amazing how quickly things can turn around for you.”

ECU’s defense held 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting from the field. Fall entered the game shooting 84.4 percent, tops in the nation.

The Pirates (9-7, 1-2) were not as successful guarding B.J. Taylor, who scored a game-high 19 points in his first game back after missing seven games with a thumb injury. Williams added 13 points for Central Florida, which went 21-of-28 at the free throw line.

Barkley led ECU with 16 points and Tyson added 13. Caleb White, who was tied with Tyson for the team lead in scoring at tip-off, left the game with a neck injury in the second half and did not return, but was the Pirates’ third-leading scorer with five points. Lebo said White will get further evaluation today. The Pirates play at Temple on Saturday. 

East Carolina scored the game’s first seven points and UCF did not score until Taylor made a free throw with 12:42 left in the half, but that gave rise to a 20-2 run for the Knights, who took a 20-9 lead on Chad Brown’s jumper.

Barkley ended an ECU scoring drought of 7:25 with a layup at the 3:27 mark and another Barkley lay-in cut the lead to 23-15 at halftime.

The Pirates shot 5-of-30 (16.7 percent) from the field in the opening half, which ended with freshman Elijah Hughes having four fouls and fellow rookie Jeremy Sheppard having three. Redshirt freshman Deng Riak got his first collegiate start in place of Sheppard.

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