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ECU wins wild one over SMU

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Antoinette Bannister dribbles past an SMU defender during their game Saturday afternoon at Minges Coliseum.


By Ronnie Woodward
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When No. 1 Connecticut is not on the court, a theme in American Athletic Conference women’s basketball this season could be close games between teams looking to finish in the top half of the league standings.

It was that type of game Saturday afternoon between East Carolina and SMU in Minges Coliseum, where a banked-in 3-pointer by Antoinette Bannister made the difference in a wild final 30 seconds of a 58-87 victory for the Pirates.

A back-and-forth contest seemed to favor ECU, which snapped a three-game losing streak with its first AAC win of the season, before SMU nailed a 3-pointer to tie it at 55-55 with 31 seconds remaining.

Bannister, a senior who didn’t start for the first time this year, was on the wing when she launched her shot and perfectly banked the ball off the glass and though the net for a 58-55 edge for the Pirates (10-6, 1-2) with 18.3 seconds left.

Then things that teams typically don’t want do at the end of a basketball game happened, starting with ECU fouling SMU’s McKenzie Adams while she was shooting a 3 with 2.1 remaining.

Adams missed the first free throw and made the second, setting up an intentional miss for her third attempt. She accidentally banked the shot in for another make, so the Pirates quickly inbounded the ball and nearly turned it over as the final ticks on the clock expired and ECU held on to win.

“It took until the final possession, but I’m so thrilled to get a really good win against a very good SMU basketball team,” Pirate coach Heather Macy said.

With a challenging two-game road swing of facing Temple and South Florida upcoming, a defeat could have made it difficult on ECU to get out of the bottom of the American standings through its opening five-game set.

Instead, the win snapped SMU’s four-game win streak. Next up for the Mustangs (10-5, 1-1) are games against Tulane and UConn.

“We can’t start in this league 0-3, so just to get this win was great,” Bannister said. “We kept saying that we were going to have to give ourselves our own energy because we didn’t know how many people would be able to come out today because of the (winter) storm.”

Bannister finished 3-of-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Teammate Bre McDonald produced a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Kristen Gaffney had 11 points and five boards.

A cold shooting spell in the fourth quarter doomed the Mustangs, who got 22 points and 15 boards from 6-foot-3 junior Alicia Froling.

A jumper by Kiara Perry gave SMU a 50-44 lead with 8:13 left to play, but the Mustangs didn’t make a field goal again until Morgan Bolton’s 3 with 31 seconds left.

Things got even worse for the Mustangs down the stretch when Froling fouled out at the 3:02 mark.

On Friday afternoon, incoming inclement weather caused officials to move Saturday’s tip-off time from 5 p.m. to 1.

“The only positive thing that I could figure out with this cold weather is that it means it’s basketball season,” Macy said. “We’ve talked about what do you do through adversity, and I just thought of the snow storm as another thing that brings a little bit of adversity. You don’t quite have that atmosphere you typically do in Minges, so could you get up to play and I think our kids accepted that challenge and did a great job with it.”

Thanks to Bannister’s big shots, East Carolina finished 4-of-8 from 3-point range. SMU was 3-of-17, but it made 22-of-27 free throws.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.