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ECU shooting touch erases Cincy's hot start

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East Carolina's Shawn Williams celebrates after making a 3-point basket against Cincinnati.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A seamless 9-0 surge by Cincinnati to begin Saturday’s basketball game looked like the perfect foundation for the heavily favored Bearcats to produce a blowout in Minges Coliseum, but that didn’t deter East Carolina.

ECU’s outside shooting for the rest of the first half and remainder of the game negated the Bearcats’ initial 9-0 run and their size advantage. ECU won 73-71 for its first American Athletic Conference victory of the season and one of its best wins since joining the league in 2014.

First-year Pirate coach Joe Dooley called a timeout when it was 9-0. Sophomore guard K.J. Davis scored five straight points after the timeout, setting the tone for him to finish 3-for-5 from 3-point range and lead shooter Shawn Williams was 4-of-10. Cincy’s team finished 3-of-19 from the outside.

The Pirates, who led by as many as 11 points late in the first half, stayed hot after taking a 16-15 edge with 11:00 until halftime and they were in the lead for 28:14 of the 40 minutes. Cincy led for 9:58.

“I saw we were getting down and I just wanted to provide a spark coming off the bench, both defensively and offensively,” said Davis, who scored a career-high 17 points. “I knew we needed the energy.”

ECU finished 9-of-22 from 3-point range.

The Pirates led 36-27 at halftime and had nearly equal offensive outputs in each half, scoring 37 after intermission.

“(The 9-0 run) was just the beginning and I have a team of guys that they have seen winning, but there is a difference between being on a team that wins and being the reason your team wins,” said 13th-year Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose club has been to eight straight NCAA tournaments and ECU hasn’t qualified for the NCAAs since 1993. “Defensively, we were as bad as I don’t even remember. … Our adherence to the defensive game plan was as bad as it has been since I’ve been the coach.”

A surprising element to the upset was that it came one game after the Pirates (8-6, 1-1 AAC) were overwhelmed in the second half at SMU and began their league slate with an 82-54 defeat to the Mustangs.

SMU started the second half of that game on a crushing 17-1 run.

Cincinnati scored the first eight points of the second half on Saturday, cutting the Pirate lead to 36-35.

The Bearcats led three times after halftime, but each time was by one point. The final one was 54-53 with 8:17 remaining, which was followed by the Pirates rallying again and they took a 66-58 advantage after two free throws by Isaac Fleming at the 4:03 mark.

Davis’ 17 points led East Carolina. Jayden Gardner totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds for the sixth double-double of his freshman campaign before fouling out with 6 seconds remaining.

ECU secured a timely signature win in Dooley’s second stint leading the Pirates — he went 57-52 from 1995-99 when ECU was in the Colonial Athletic Association — ahead of a difficult stretch of games upcoming. Three of the next four contests are on the road, beginning with a trip to Memphis on Thursday.

“The thing that we didn’t do at SMU is we knew they would make a run and we didn’t handle it,” Dooley said. “We handled it (versus Cincinnati) and were able to manage things. It also helps when you make some shots and are scoring. That made it a lot easier, because we were able to answer a score or a bad situation with a basket.”

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

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