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Pirates, kids celebrate buzzer-beater

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East Carolina's Lashonda Monk high-fives children after ECU's education day win against Liberty on Dec. 13, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, December 13, 2018

East Carolina’s Justice Gee dropped in a 3-pointer at the final buzzer and flexed her muscles at midcourt as not only her teammates rushed to her in celebration, but also more than 6,000 local school children in the Minges Coliseum stands shouted and cheered and danced and joined in the fun.

It wasn’t conference tournament or NCAA tournament pressure, but what unfolded for the East Carolina women’s basketball team on Thursday was pressure that only the team’s annual Education Day game can provide.

ECU rallied to beat Liberty, 66-63, with Minges nearly packed to capacity thanks to a crowd of 6,276 made up almost completely of children on an exciting field trip.

The game tipped off at 11:30 a.m., and visiting Liberty looked poised to hand the Pirates’ their first-ever Education Day loss. They won each of the previous fives games by double digits.

ECU (6-2) trailed this time by as many as nine points and was behind for 34:46 of the 40 minutes. A Liberty 3-pointer made it 63-63 with 1:04 remaining, and neither team scored again until the final Pirate possession went off script and a pass by Lashonda Monk sailed to Gee at the top of the key for her to hoist up the winner.

“There was like one second on the clock and I had to shoot it, so I did … and I just thank God that it went in,” said Gee, who attempted only one 3-point shot in the game. “It is different pressure because even when we had timeouts, we really couldn’t hear the coaches because (the children) are so happy and excited. You really have to lock in and stay focused, and we knew the kids are so excited and they look up to us.”

The Pirates, who trailed 31-24 at halftime, outscored Liberty (2-7) by a 22-14 score in the fourth quarter.

The ending to the game led to ECU players spilling into the stands after the victory, high-fiving and smiling with kids in celebration.

“They were loud throughout the game, but I think it kept our energy up a little bit when we weren’t playing well during the first half,” said interim head coach Chad Killinger, who is in his first season on the East Carolina staff. “As the game went on, it just kind of kept building. We went on a run and once we did that, it got even louder and you didn’t know really how loud they could get until we took the lead and our bench exploded and the crowd was into it.

“It was really neat to be a part of that. … It also is something else that our girls can be really proud of that they got to play in front of the largest crowd to ever seen a women’s basketball game here at ECU.”

The Pirates scored the first two points of the game on free throws by Monk, who finished with a game-high 16 points. The visitors answered with a 6-0 run and they didn’t trail until Raven Johnson’s three-point play gave the Pirates a 59-58 edge with 3:22 left in the game.

ECU sophomore guard Ariyana Williams, last year’s leading scorer who was injured until her season debut on Dec. 1, played for the second straight game and scored two points in seven minutes.

Gee had seven points, none more important than her buzzer-beating shot to ignite a unique celebration and prevent the Pirates from enduring a three-game losing streak.

“Justice did a good job coming to the ball and meeting that pass and being in position to score,” Killinger said. “She’s actually made that shot when a play has broken down in practice. … I am really proud of her that she got to have that moment.”

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

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