PirateIllustrated - ECU Tops UNC-W 88-78 In OT
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ECU Tops UNC-W 88-78 In OT

Jayden Gardner scores two of his 16 points and ECU claws their way back to beat UNC-W in overtime.
Jayden Gardner scores two of his 16 points and ECU claws their way back to beat UNC-W in overtime. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

In a game of major runs from both teams, ECU crawled back from the dead to pick up their fourth straight win 88-78 over UNC-W in overtime Monday night in Minges Coliseum.

J.J. Miles led the Pirates with 22 points including six treys. Bitumba Baruti added 17 points to go along with ten from Tristen Newton and 16 more from Jayden Gardner who heated up late in the game and also led ECU with 11 rebounds. That leaves Gardner four points shy of 1,200 career points.

For Miles who missed the first couple of games and looked rusty in the Radford win, it was a bit of a breakout performance as the season begins to kick into high gear.

“It was good. My first couple of games back and I’m beginning to get back in rhythm. When you see the first two go in and your teammates find you in your spots it’s pretty much downhill from there,” said Miles, “We started off good then we got down early in the second half so it was good to see the team show toughness and fight back and be able to keep some composure and come out with the win.”

After a close first twelve minutes of the game, ECU heated up offensively and took a nine point 30-21 lead in a 21-6 run led by Bitumba Baruti and four first half treys from J.J. Miles.

That helped the Pirates take a 51-37 halftime lead behind 16 points from Miles. ECU connected on 60 percent from the arc in the first twenty minutes including nine three-pointers and held UNC-W(3-2) to just 33 percent from the field. Jaylen Sims led the Seahawks with 12 points at the break and ended up with 28 to lead all scorers.

“It was a great start and another thing was we didn’t turn the ball over. We had a great assist to turnover ratio. Most of our baskets were assisted and that really helped us out,” said ECU head coach Joe Dooley, “I thought we really moved the ball well and then to start the second half I think it was a 30-6 run, but a lot of those were off of live ball turnovers. We got out of sync and out of rhythm and they really took advantage and made a great comeback.”

“Everything was going great and then it turned on us. We kept tuning the ball over, we got down by ten but Coach kept telling us that we can change it, we can change it,” said Gardner afterward, “We showed a lot of toughness tonight. We fought back, we forced overtime and then we had a great overtime, stretched the lead out and closed the game out. That was the craziest game I’ve been in so far.”

Joe Dooley was relieved to pick up a win in a game that could have easily gone the other way given the long cold snap the Pirates endured in the first twelve minutes of the second half.

“Obviously an unbelievable game of runs. We were very good that first twenty minutes then the first thirteen minutes of the second half were absolutely horrific,” said Dooley, “A lot of it was attributed to Wilmington’s effort. They made some shots and put us on our heels and then our guys did a good job of recalibrating. We were down ten and did some good things, made some big plays, got some timely stops and it was a good comeback win.”

ECU(4-0) couldn’t buy a basket in the first eleven minutes of the second half and nine turnovers didn’t help matters either in the Pirates’ worst stretch of basketball this season. Meanwhile Wilmington went on a 30-6 run that found the Seahawks up 67-57 with 7:17 to play. Dooley said it would have been easy to fold in the second half but his team toughed it out and came through down the stretch.

Bitumba Baruti scored in the paint and Brandon Suggs’ nailed a three-pointer to get ECU back within five with just under five minutes left. Then Baruti’s trey got the Pirates back within two before a J.J. Miles bomb gave ECU a brief one point lead in an 11-2 Pirate run.

“I almost feel like we were 2-1 today. You’re going to win the game, then you’re looking at it like you could lose the game because of what we did,” Dooley told PirateIllustrated.com, “Then you come back and win the game, so I thought we played really hard in the second half. Harvey and all of those guys gave them big minutes and big points. Sims was terrific, made some timely shots. From a standpoint of not giving in, it would have been easy. You’re up 15 and now you’re down ten, we said guys there are a lot of people who turned their TV’s off only to find out that we’re not going away. We battled back and showed some character.”

Baruti’s three point bomb from the left arc tied the contest with 1:33 to go and Jayden Gardner basket in the paint with 36 seconds on the game clock had the Pirates up 73-71.

But a Sims drive to the paint tied the game and J.J. Miles’ catch and shoot attempt on an inbounds pass underneath from the baseline with .03 on the scoreboard went in, but was after the game clock expired putting the game into overtime. The Seahawks had dodged a bullet.

ECU jumped out to a quick five point overtime lead before a baseline jumper from Gardner and two Tristen Newton free throws extended the lead to nine at 86-77 with a minute remaining and the Pirates held on for the win.

“In overtime I feel like whoever scores first has that momentum,” Gardner said, “We started out and we got a stop then we scored then we knew - let’s keep this going. We went on a 16-6 run to end the half and another run to end the overtime so momentum was high.”

“It builds our confidence, builds our trust and character. It builds our toughness and it shows the guys that when their name is called, they will be able to step up,” Gardner told PirateIllustrated.com, “A lot of people made big plays. Suggs, Bitumba, Ludgy, Tremont, Tristen. A lot of people stepped up tonight and it was good to see.”

The Pirates will look to grab their fifth straight victory when they host North Florida Thursday afternoon at 5 pm in Minges Coliseum.

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