It came all the way down to a last-minute defensive stand for East Carolina basketball to get a much-needed second American Athletic Conference win of the season and stop a five-game losing streak on Thursday night.
Tulane left Minges Coliseum still searching for its much-needed victory.
ECU shook off an inauspicious opening half and led for the final 4:30 to win 66-65 over the Green Wave, which saw its losing streak reach 10 games.
AAC scoring leader Jayden Gardner, the Pirates’ standout freshman forward, was saddled with foul trouble in the first half and had two points and one rebound while playing six minutes during the opening half. ECU’s Tyler Foster committed three fouls during the first 20 minutes, and Gardner and Shawn Williams each had two.
A 15-7 start to the second half helped the hosts, who still got 15 points and nine rebounds from Gardner in the game, and Gardner drew a clutch charge with 13 seconds remaining when ECU (9-11, 2-6 American) led 62-60. Gardner and Williams then went 4-for-4 combined from the free throw line to seal the win. The Green Wave (4-16, 0-8) made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We hung in there,” Gardner said. “In the second half, we came back and all fought as a team.”
Tulane led 33-29 at intermission.
The Wave still hasn’t won since defeating Texas Southern 77-70 on Dec. 17.
The Pirates had only seven turnovers, aiding in their 23-4 advantage in points off turnovers and 12-0 edge in fast break points.
“The whole game, coach kept telling us that they don’t like pressure,” said Pirate point guard Isaac Fleming, who finished with 11 points, six assists, three turnovers and two steals. “Really it was just pressuring them and capitalizing.”
ECU took a 39-37 edge on Gardner’s inside bucket with 14:59 left to play. That was the hosts’ first lead since it was 4-3 during the first three minutes.
K.J. Davis stepped up with his outside shooting and hit three 3-pointers in the second half. Consecutive 3s by Davis put East Carolina up 50-44 at the 9:58 mark.
Davis finished 3-of-7 from 3-point range and with nine points, five boards and three steals. Big man Dimitrije Spasojevic scored 10.
ECU was 3-for-15 from the 3-point arc.
“He made some big shots, and I keep talking that if we made some 3s, then the floor will widen,” Pirate coach Joe Dooley said of Davis. “Those were timely 3s.”
Gardner was called for his second foul with 11:42 until halftime. Tulane was leading 18-13, and Gardner didn’t play the rest of the half.
“It was tough and I just had to support the team,” he said.
The Pirates shot three 3-pointers during the first 20 minutes and missed all of them. ECU’s Seth LeDay, who caused a key steal late in the opening half and also finished a dunk on an alley-oop pass from Fleming, scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
Tulane’s Kevin Zhang was 2-for-4 from outside the arc and had 12 points by halftime. The Wave was 2-of-11 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 6-for-19.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.