GREENVILLE, N.C. - It was not their best outing, but East Carolina came back from 15 points down in the second half to slip past pesky Savannah State, 66-65 in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Invitational Tournament in Minges Coliseum Tuesday night.
With the victory, East Carolina improves to 19-12 on the season, a program best and the Pirates' first postseason tournament victory in ECU basketball history.
Seniors Maurice Kemp with 21 game high points and Miguel Paul's 10 points and 9 assists pushed the Pirates ahead late in the game While Akeem Richmond's 4 for 8 shooting from the arc helped to complete the task for ECU.
Deven Williams led Savannah State(19-15) with 18 points while Louis Arnold tossed in 15 of his own and Jyles Smith hauled down 11 boards for the Tigers in a losing cause.
Savannah State jumped on ECU early in the contest when a Rashad Hassan basket in the paint put the Tigers up, 16-5 in the first eight minutes.
ECU hit only 2 of 11 during that span. Devin Williams launched a trey and slamed in an amazing one hand windmill rebound dunk to give the Tigers a 15 point margin with four minutes to go before halftime.
But senior guard, Shamarr Bowden, coming off an injury, knocked down two free throws, Robert Sampson scored in the paint off a Kemp assist and Paris Roberts-Campbell's three-point basket cut the lead to 32-25 at intermission.
Two early Savannah State buckets to open the second half found the Tigers up by ten. Cedric Smith scored three times in less than two minutes, including a circus shot on a reverse lay-in to give them a 15 point lead with 13:30 to play.
ECU remained relatively cold from the field through the first 30 minutes of play before a two Sampson baskets including a dunk and three Richmond treys cut the lead to just four with 7:20 to go.
Preston Blackman's only three-point jumper and subsequent floater in the lane helped Savannah State maintain a seven point lead at the five minute mark.
That's when Miguel Paul went to work with a three-pointer before dishing to Sampson on the next possession to make it a two-point game.
The Pirates cut the lead to one on a Maurice Kemp bucket with 2:51 to play. A Tiger turnover, a Smith miss of a one-and-one and a Paul three-pointer gave ECU the lead by one with :47 seconds left.
Hassan connected in the paint to regain the lead with :25 seconds to play.
Paul fouled Hassan on the next possession but he missed the first half of the one-and-one before two Paul shots from the charity stripe proved to be the margin of victory in the final 13 seconds of the game.
East Carolina got the win despite shooting only 39.6 percent from the floor, but their 50 percent second half shooting was just enough.
The Tigers hit only 38 percent in the first half but fared much better with 56 percent shooting in the second period while only connecting on 6 of 14 from the stripe. The Pirates hit only 20 of 30 from the charity stripe. Scrappy Savannah State hit 5 of 14 from the arc.
The rebound battle was basically even but the Tigers scored 34 points in the lane while limiting ECU to just 22 points in the paint in a game that only had three lead changes for the evening.
East Carolina's entertaining basketball season continues this Saturday at 5 pm in Minges Coliseum when the Pirates hit the hardwood and go for their 20th win of the season as the CIT continues.
Catch PI-TV Postgame presented by Ironwood Golf & Country Club with video highlights and postgame comments from the coaches and players here on PirateIllustrated.com.