Jayden Gardner and the rest of East Carolina’s thriving basketball team ensured a perfect record for ECU to take to its American Athletic Conference opener next week at SMU.

The Pirates shook off a slow start in and controlled the final minute for a 73-67 victory over winless North Florida in Minges Coliseum on Thursday, getting 20 points and 12 rebounds from Gardner and finishing with a 13-2 advantage in fast break points. ECU is 5-0 for the first time since 2012-13, highlighted by winning all four of a four-game homestand.

“Late-game situations and coming back and getting a (defensive) stop are things we work on in practice and we are now getting to experience that in games,” Gardner said. “That also is going to bode well in the future.”

The Pirates won in overtime Monday against UNC Wilmington.

ECU trailed by as many as nine points in the first half Thursday. It was a 40-38 halftime lead for the Pirates, who closed the game on a 7-0 run and finished 18-for-24 on free throws.

UNF’s Jonathan Aybar missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw set with his Ospreys trailing 68-67 and 32.6 seconds remaining. The rebound went to Gardner, who swished his two attempts in the same one-and-one situation. Brandon Suggs also was 2-for-2 from the stripe inside the final 20 seconds.

“The spurts that we played like we’re capable of were too short and we’ll have to get that corrected quickly, but we make some plays at the end,” Pirate coach Joe Dooley said. “In an almost twisted way, we are getting to work on some special situations at the end of the game, which are things you can’t see in practice. I think that will help in the long run.”

Suggs scored 10 points with five rebounds and five assists, trailing teammate Tristen Newton’s eight assists to Newton’s two turnovers. J.J. Miles (3-for-3 from 3-point range) scored 16 for a second straight strong outing.


A drive and layup by Suggs at the 42.5-second mark made it 68-67 Pirates for the final lead change of the game.

“J.J. drove it real hard on the wing and forced rotation and swung it to my end, so I just took what they gave me and got an open layup,” Suggs said.

Gardner was called for his third foul with 19:16 left in the game and ECU up 40-38. His fourth was an offensive foul at the 11:18 mark, the Pirates leading 54-48.

The Ospreys came in with a battled-tested 0-6 record, having already played teams such as Florida State, High Point, N.C. State and Miami. They made three of their first four 3-point attempts for a 17-9 lead.

A smooth drive and layup by North Florida’s Dorian James gave the visitors a 63-61 edge at the 3:34 mark for their first lead since it was 33-32 late in the first half.

“No disrespect to us, but they’ve already played at Florida State and N.C. State and Miami, so I don’t think there was a fear factor of coming to play the Pirates,” Dooley said. “If I’m them, I’m looking at this was a game you could win. Our guys had to understand that situation. ... They played loose and with a lot of energy.”

It was 30-23 Ospreys when the hosts scored seven straight points, sparking the Pirates to a 40-38 halftime edge.

UNF was 5-of-18 from 3-point range in the opening half. It finished 8-for-31.

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