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ECU Topples USF 60-49 in AAC Opener in Minges Coliseum

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USF's Isaiah Manderson tries to shoot over 7-1 ECU center Andre Washington Wednesday night.
PirateIllustrated.com photo

GREENVILLE, N.C. - ECU Freshman guard Elijah Hughes had his best game so far as a Pirate Wednesday night recording personal highs in four different categories. Hughes scored 19 points, tossed in three treys and six free throws in 26 minutes, the most he has played yet in a 60-49 win in the AAC opener against South Florida.

Hughes went 3 for 6 from the arc and 5 for 8 overall from the floor to go along with 75 percent free throw shooting while also pulling down four rebounds in the win. B.J. Tyson added eleven points while Caleb White and Jeremy Sheppard both tossed in nine points in the Pirates’ ninth victory of the season.

Geno Thorpe led USF(6-6/0-1 AAC) with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting including 2 of 3 from three-point range. The Bulls didn’t have anyone else who scored more than five points for the evening. ECU held the Bulls to just 30 percent shooting for the game and just 3 for 15 from the arc including 2 of 12 in the first twenty minutes.

The Pirates opened up a big 17 point halftime lead and despite hitting just five of twenty from the arc and only 21 of 38 from the charity stripe, ECU(9-5/1-0 AAC) generated enough defense, creating 22 points from 15 USF first half turnovers and 18 for the game in the win.

"We’re happy to be 1-0 in league play and I thought that first half really carried us in this game. Our defense was terrific. We turned them over in the first half. Fifteen turnovers. I thought Dre was really good blocking shots. He was active on the offensive glass for us," ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said.

"Elijah Hughes had his best game as a Pirate and did what we know he can do with 19 points in 26 minutes with no turnovers. He was really big for us in particular making some timely shots for us," said Lebo, "Kentrell (Barkley) struggled, Jeremy (Sheppard) played a little bit like a freshman tonight, but we were able to overcome that with somebody else stepping up and that was Elijah Hughes in this game.”

East Carolina exhibited their best offensive ball movement of the season which contributed to a 17-2 start in the first nine minutes of the contest. The quick start was keyed by a pair of buckets from both Caleb White and Elijah Hughes.

“Coach, that’s what he’s been harping on for the past two weeks. We watched film on the last game and he was just saying look at the ball movement. It all starts with the guys in the locker room and us trusting each other,” ECU guard B.J. Tyson told PirateIllustrated.com after the game, “We have trust in each other, we have faith in each other and we’re working to get the team chemistry better. It’s a new season so we’re just ready to play.”

“We did some good things. We’ve got to get a little bit better seeing the next play. That’s been my big thing with them is being able to not put the ball over your head and seeing what’s open before you catch the basketball to not let the ball stick in your hands,” Lebo said, “We’re getting better at that and we’ve got to continue to get better, but that’s being able to share the ball."

Hughes remained hot, nailing two long three-pointers in his team high eleven first half points to extend the Pirates’ lead to 19 points with 7:52 in the first period. USF baskets from Luis Santos and a pair of Geno Thorpe buckets cut the lead to 14 before ECU took a seventeen point 34-17 lead at intermission.

The Pirates held the Bulls to 28 percent shooting in the first half while ECU hit 48.3 including 44.4 percent from the arc on 4 of 9 shooting. Geno Thorpe led the Bulls with just five points at halftime.

Geno Thorpe scored inside and out to begin the second half in the first three minutes to go along with a Tulio De Silva basket that cut the ECU lead to thirteen at 37-24. Then Bo Zeigler scored in the paint, Isaiah Manderson and Geno Thorpe scored to get the Bulls to within eight at 40-32 with just under eleven minutes to play.

That was as close as South Florida would get.

The Bulls kept things manageable with baskets from Santos and a Malik Fitts layup in a 47-38 contest with 6:49 to play. Thorpe trimmed the ECU lead to nine again at 53-44 with 1:22 to go, but the Pirates held on for their first victory of the young American Athletic Conference slate.

ECU returns to the floor Saturday afternoon in Minges Coliseum in New Year’s eve contest with SMU. Game time is at 12 noon.

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