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Shockers surging; Gardner extends ECU streak

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East Carolina's Jayden Gardner (1) celebrates on the Minges Coliseum floor after making a basket against Tulane on Jan. 31.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 11, 2019

Veteran Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall admits the start to the Shockers’ season was dismal, but he also is pleased with the development of his club and its 9-2 record in 11 games to end the regular season. 

Wichita (17-13) will face East Carolina (10-20) in the fourth and final game Thursday at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., on Day 1 of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Shockers earned the No. 6 seed, and the Pirates are 11th out of 12 teams.

“We have a roster that had 10 of our scholarship players with no Division I experience when the season started,” Marshall said Monday during the AAC coaches teleconference. “We were pretty slow out of the gate and we have gotten better and our schedule has lightened up, to a degree. We are just playing a little better and our guys are getting a lot of experience.”

ECU is one week removed from a 72-55 loss at Wichita State last Tuesday, when forward Seth LeDay tore his ACL. Big man Rico Quinton also was out for the Pirates on Sunday in an 82-73 home loss to Connecticut.

“We played a little small (on Sunday), so we’ll evaluate it,” Pirate coach Joe Dooley said of facing the Shockers. “One of the things is Wichita is very big, so maybe we can incorporate a K.J. Davis or a Tyler Foster or Addison Hill to play some minutes at a position they haven't played a ton of this year.”

Like the Shockers, Memphis is a proud program with talented players, and the Tigers will need to win the AAC tourney for an NCAA tournament bid. Memphis will be playing in its home arena as the No. 5 seed.

“It helps a lot, because we play different at home,” first-year coach Penny Hardaway said. “We are scoring 10 to 12 more points at home than we do on the road.”

Gardner on freshman team

East Carolina forward Jayden Gardner, Houston guard Nate Hinton and South Florida redshirt freshman Alexis Yetna were unanimous selections on the AAC all-freshman team announced Monday. The league will announce its annual awards, including freshman of the year, on Wednesday.

Gardner averaged 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game during the regular season, standing as the only player in the league to rank among the top-10 in scoring and rebounding. He leads all conference rookies in scoring and gives the Pirates five straight years with an all-freshman team member.

The AAC first-team picks consisted of players from five different schools. They were Shizz Alston from Temple, Cincinnati slasher Jarron Cumberland, Houston standout Corey Davis, Memphis leading scorer Jeremiah Martin and veteran B.J. Taylor from UCF.

NCAA talk

The ECU-Wichita State winner will face third-seeded Temple on Friday.

Temple has been regarded as an NCAA bubble team for weeks, recording a key win on Saturday when it beat UCF 67-62. The Owls are 6-1 in their last seven games.

“There is no assurance at this point, but we are just thinking that this is an important stretch of games for us,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who will retire at the end of this season. “We better do well.”

ESPN on Monday had Temple as a No. 11 seed for the NCAAs. The other three American teams in ESPN’s projected bracket were Houston, Cincinnati and UCF.

“I think they definitely are an NCAA tournament team,” Dooley said of Temple (23-8). “They have great backcourt play.”

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

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