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Bless Wellcome Middle School's heart. They are the best kept secret in the county. Great things are happening there and...

Pirates outlast Cardinals in OT

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East Carolina's head coach Joe Dooley, right, talks to Jayden Gardner during their game against James Madison on Nov. 9, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A basketball team struggling mightily to make free throws still hit their biggest ones of the night on Sunday.

East Carolina forged an unlikely tie as regulation expired against Lamar, then delivered near-perfect accuracy from the line in OT to seal an 84-78 triumph over the visiting Cardinals in Minges Coliseum.

Two days after the Pirates (2-1) lost to James Madison on a buzzer beater, ECU’s Seth LeDay saved his team by tipping home an offensive rebound as time expired to force OT at 71-71. It was LeDay’s basket that briefly gave his team the lead with 8 seconds left against JMU.

But on Sunday, it was the Pirates who surged for the last laugh. 

After LeDay’s dunk to open the extra period, the previously hapless Pirates hit 7-of-8 from the line to close out the game.

“We were down 10 with 6 and a half (minutes) left and guys have to make a decision. Are they going to keep playing or are they going to get beat?” ECU head coach Joe Dooley said. “They made a decision that they wanted to win.”

Freshman Jayden Gardner erupted for 30 points, becoming the third ECU freshman to do so in a game, and he defied his team’s struggles by hitting 12-of-14 from the stripe. He also has 10 rebounds.

His versatile post game included an array of cuts inside to draw contact and reverse lay-ins.

“The first two games I was struggling, and it really felt surreal to see everything starting to work out — shots started fall and my teammates kept trusting me and getting me the ball,” Gardner said. “We just executed. This team had a lot of heart.”

LeDay finished another strong game with 16 points and nine boards, followed by 12 from Tyler Foster and 10 each from K.J. Davis and Tae Hardy.

Lamar (1-2) was led in defeat by five double-digit scorers: Josh Nzeakor and V.J. Holmes with 15 points each, T.J. Atwood (13), Mike Kolawole (12 and 12 rebounds) and Nick Garth (12).

“Jayden was spectacular. He was poised, he didn’t try to rush anything he didn’t have,” Dooley said of Gardner. “He sort of pivoted around. Some of our offensive possessions looked like disasters ... but he did a good job of working the post and I thought Seth was terrific. He helped us handling the ball when we were a little bit shaky and made some really big-time plays.”

The Cardinals built their second 10-point lead of the game, 54-44, with 10:30 to play in the game and did it again with 6:29 left before the ECU rally began in earnest. The Cardinals got penetration and scoring all night from the trio of Kolawole, Nzeakor and Atwood.

For the second time in three days, the Pirates struggled in the first half and trailed at the break, 35-29, including the Cardinals temporarily building their lead to 10 points for the first time, 31-21, with 5:51 left before halftime.

ECU took a brief 19-18 lead on a five-point swing by Foster, who canned a 3 and then connected on two free throws to put his team up by a point, but Lamar exploded for a 13-2 after that and rode into the intermission with a comfortable edge.

Foster had eight in the half for the Pirates, while Gardner led the way with nine points and five rebounds.

ECU lackluster production from the line continued, with the Pirates going 4-for-8 and shooting just 39 percent from the floor in the opening 20 in a lackadaisical performance.

Josh Nzeakor, meanwhile, had nine points to lead the Cardinals.

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

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