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CCSU pulls upset in Minges

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Dimitri Spasojevic (#32) prepares to pass the ball during a game against Central Connecticut Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.

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By NATHAN SUMMERS
The Daily Reflector

Friday, November 17, 2017

East Carolina hit an early-season low on Friday night, staking Central Connecticut an early lead, clawing back once and then watching the Blue Devils run away late in a convincing 79-68 upset in Minges Coliseum.

It marked the second straight home loss for the Pirates.

ECU (1-2) trailed for most of the first half, pulled within a point at the break and took one more lead to open the second half. The Blue Devils (1-3) got the big finish they needed for their elusive first win, however, building and holding a comfortable lead for the rest of the night.

“They controlled the tempo of the game and we couldn't defensively get enough done, get enough stops to get out in transition,” ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said. “We were offensively challenged, continued to not shoot the ball well, so we had to rely on getting a lot of stops.”

Senior guard B.J. Tyson was again the bright spot for the Pirates, matching teammate Kentrell Barkley with 19 points and hitting numerous shots that might have been catalysts but were not. Tyson's 3-pointer with 6:41 left in the game trimmed the CCSU lead to five, 62-57, and Isaac Fleming drove the lane to make it 62-59, but that was it for the Pirates.

Central Connecticut owned the game's last five minutes. Leading 68-61, point guard Austin Nehls (game-high 24 points) drained his fourth 3 of the night to give the visitors their first 10-point lead of the night, and he rammed home another long ball a minute later to make it lopsided at 74-61.

“It's been frustrating, I'll tell you that. I wish I could explain it,” Lebo said. “Offensively, we're a work in progress. We're not where we need to be offensively. We don't shoot it very well. We have young big guys. That's a recipe for offensive struggles at times, which we have.”

Prior to the win over ECU, CCSU had lost to Hartford, Rutgers and St. John's.

Tyler Kohl added 20 points, nine assists and nine rebounds to fall just shy of a triple double for Central.

For ECU, Dimitri Spasojevic had a promising night with 13 points and seven boards, but he played much of the game in foul trouble and also went 0-for-4 from the line in a potential game-changing stretch. Fellow post player Usman Haruna not only fouled out early, but he picked up foul Nos. 3, 4 and 5 on one possession in the second half.

“When we made the run, we got Dimitri on the foul line and he missed four in a row and that really hurt us,” Lebo said, also lamenting his point guards’ combined 0-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. “But really, the plays of the game were in controlling tempo by their three backcourt players. I thought they were great.”

Justin Whatley added nine points in the loss for ECU, which again was beaten on the glass, 36-26.

The Pirates found themselves in a dogfight throughout the first half, with the Blue Devils carrying a 37-36 edge into the intermission.

That was thanks in large part to steady dribble penetration and kick-out passes to open shooters, which staked CCSU a couple of eight-point and numerous seven-point cushions. But ECU came to life late in the half.

Tyson led all scorers in the opening 20 minutes with 14 points, followed by nine from Spasojevic, who also was charged with three early fouls. Tyson was a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc and 4-for-5 from the floor in the half.

The Pirates took the first of two leads in the opening 20 minutes when Spasojevic began to make his presence felt, the first time on a baseline bucket for a 20-19 edge that grew briefly to 22-19 on Fleming's offensive rebound and lay-in with 6 minutes until the break.

A beautiful, floating two-handed jam from the left side by Spasojevic made it 26-24 Pirates a minute later, but the Devils pestered their way back into the lead, going back up 33-26 on Nehls' second 3-pointer of the game from the right corner.

The Pirates bounced back again with a Tyson five-point swing.

He connected on three straight free throws, then picked off a pass and threw down a left-handed jam that made it 35-34 CCSU, and Jabari Craig's lone field goal of the half came at the halftime horn to keep it a one-point contest.

The Pirates return to action on Monday when they host Cleveland State.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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