The East Carolina women’s basketball team is pressing again.
No, the Pirates aren’t trying too hard or forcing plays that aren’t there. The Pirates are pressing opponents into disastrous situations. ECU on Sunday used a stifling defense to disrupt visiting Memphis in a 68-38 American Athletic Conference win.
“I saw it from the beginning in the first two or three minutes of the game that they were a little bit unsure what to do against the matchup,” ECU coach Kim McNeill said of the Tigers. “I told the guys that whenever you see somebody that’s a little unsure or unconfident, we need to smother them.”
The Pirates put a lid on the Memphis offense and made things incredibly difficult. No player scored more than seven points, and no one made more than three shots.
The 38 points allowed were the fewest allowed in conference play by a Pirates team since joining the AAC during the 2014-15 season.
ECU forced a whopping 30 turnovers and scored 26 points off those extra chances. Synia Johnson recorded a career-high four steals and was once again a menace running the top of ECU’s press.
Johnson was playing in her second game since missing three straight with a concussion, and made her third start of the season on Sunday. Her presence in the Pirates’ starting lineup has been a positive jolt for the team.
The sophomore guard finished with a career-high 15 points to go with seven rebounds and a pair of assists.
“I feel like she can be another double-figure scorer for us,” McNeill said of Johnson. “We got back into pressing. Two or three weeks ago, we were injured, we didn’t have enough bodies so we couldn’t press, (Johnson) was out with a concussion, and now we have the bodies back to press and that’s where she really accelerates in pressing and getting out in transition.”
The Pirates are still without Raven Johnson and Danae McNeal, but are getting healthy as the month progresses.
ECU (10-14, 3-8 AAC) led 13-10 at the end of the first quarter before turning up the defensive pressure in the second quarter. Memphis (13-9, 4-7) scored four points in the second quarter and committed nine turnovers while going 1-of-9 from the field.
Taniyah Thompson scored seven points during a 13-0 ECU run in the second frame, which allowed the Pirates to pull away for good. Memphis didn’t record its first basket until 45 seconds remained before halftime when Lanetta Williams finished a layup.
“Really just playing with confidence and coming out with that pressure,” Johnson said of her success. “For ECU basketball, our identity is really playing competitive defense, getting into people and turning them over. So that was getting back to our identity.”
Thompson scored a game-high 26 points for ECU, as she continued her red-hot scoring streak. She shot 10-of-22, and her performance comes after scoring 29 points in back-to-back games.
ECU has now won two straight games after dropping five in a row. The Pirates have road games at Houston and Cincinnati, before returning home on Feb. 24 for a game against Tulsa.