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Slow ECU Start Leads to 74-68 Loss to Kansas City in Bahamas

Brandon Suggs and ECU fall to Kansas City 74-68 in the Island of the Bahamas Showcase.
Brandon Suggs and ECU fall to Kansas City 74-68 in the Island of the Bahamas Showcase. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

Rob Whitfield scored a career high 29 points to lead Kansas City past ECU 74-68 Saturday night in the Island of the Bahamas Showcase.

Whitfield went 7 for 10 from the arc for the night to go along with 14 points from Javan White and 10 points from Josiah Allick for a Kangaroo team that hit 50.9 percent of their shots including 8 of 16 from three-point land.

The Pirates were down by as much as 23 points in the second half before finding ways to score late and cut the lead to as little as four points with less than a minute to play. ECU did it largely by hitting 91 percent from the stripe on 31 of their 34 free throws to make a game of it down the stretch.

ECU(2-4) got 15 points from J.J. Miles, 11 points from Brandon Suggs and 13 points and 11 boards from Jayden Gardner who fouled out in the second half. Tyree Jackson tossed in eight points in his second game back after returning from an injury for an ECU team that hit just under 30 percent from the field for the night.

The big difference was ECU’s slow start in a cold shooting first half, leaving the Pirates in an uphill battle in the final twenty minutes. To ECU’s credit, they made a game of it in the second half and had their chances down the stretch to pull out a victory.

“I think we showed some grit unlike last Saturday against Liberty. It was good for J.J. Miles to see the ball go in the basket and that will help us down the road,” said ECU head coach Joe Dooley, “We had a bunch of wide open shots, we turned down a bunch of wide open threes and that’s a deal that we’ve got to get rectified. The only positive was J.J. saw the ball go in the basket and we shot free throws well, but everything else we did a very poor job including coaching.”

“As coaches we’ve got to get them better prepared. We’ve tried to warn about some of these deals and we obviously didn’t do a good enough job. We looked like we were running backwards. That’s as poor a first half as I’ve seen in a long time. It was embarrassing and we need to right this quickly,” Dooley said, “The lack of urgency and maturity by our guys was nonexistent in the first half and we’ve got to get that changed.”

Dooley gave due credit to a Kansas City team that put on a solid performance and will head into the title game against Liberty on Sunday.

“I thought UMKC controlled the first half at which put us on our heels. They played very well,” said Dooley, “We let Whitfield get off to a great start and I’m sure that was a career high for him. He was in the top forty percentile last year in three-point made field goals and that was a big emphasis. He gets off and made seven of them and 27 (points) and that was not a good recipe.”

Kansas City(4-3) jumped out to a 21-12 lead midway into the first half on treys from Josiah Allick and Rob Whitfield against a cold shooting ECU ballclub that went 0 for 7 from the arc in the early going.

Whitfield’s second trey and third made basket of the half compounded the issue for the Pirates in a 24-14 contest. ECU finally got a bucket from Edra Luster at the 7:56 mark to briefly slow the drought in a 13-3 run for Kansas City.

J.J. Miles launched in a trey and deuce for ECU, but Kansas City matched it with baskets from Whitfield and Marvin Nesbit as the Kangaroo lead grew to thirteen at 32-19. Miles James then got in the act for ECU with a three-pointer that trimmed the lead to ten at 32-22 with 4:11 to go before halftime.

Whitfield’s third and fourth treys of the half for his 17th point, a Brandon McKissic basket and a Josiah Allick layup then had the Roos up 42-26 at the break on 63 percent first half shooting.

Miles led ECU in scoring at the break with just five points. Kansas City held Jayden Gardner to just three first half points.

The lead then grew to 47-28 as Whitfield picked up where he left off with his sixth trey of the evening. His subsequent layup had the Roos up 53-30 while ECU went 0 for 8 from the floor to open the second half.

Gardner’s first made basket of the game with 13:31 to play, a pair of Brandon Suggs free throws and a J.J. Miles three-pointer then cut the Kansas City lead to 55-43 at the twelve minute mark as the Pirates slowly worked their way back into the contest.

ECU trimmed the lead to ten 66-58 with 6:42 remaining on what turned largely into a free throw contest. Seven made Pirate free throws down the stretch followed by two more from Tyree Jackson then cut the lead to 67-60 with 6:05 on the game clock.

Javan White’s dunk for the Roos followed by a Marvin Nesbit three-point play on the next Kansas City possession pushed the lead back to nine at 72-63 at the three minute mark.

But a J.J. Miles trey cut the lead to six with 2:36 to play before Brandon Suggs added two free throws to make it 72-68 with :47 on the game clock.

After an ECU defensive stop, Bitumba Baruti's three-point attempt was way off the mark before two Whitfield free throws sealed the 74-68 win for Kansas City.

The Pirates will take on Rice, that fell 71-59 on Saturday to Liberty, for third place in the Island of the Bahamas Showcase on Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.

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