UConn Defeats ECU 84-63 In Pirate Home Basketball Finale
In a game where Pirates never led, UConn made relatively easy work of East Carolina in an 84-63 win in Saturday’s final basketball appearance of the season in Greenville.
It was also UConn’s last appearance in Greenville before moving to the Big East Conference next season. Christian Vital tossed in 27 points, James Bouknight had 19 points and Isaiah Whaley added 16 for good measure to go along with 11 points from Brendan Adams in the victory.
UConn only dressed eight players and only seven of them were on scholarship but the Huskies made good use of the three-point shot, going 10 of 28 from the arc while ECU only managed to launch eight all night and connected on just two.
Jayden Gardner was playing a little sore from a long season of action and only managed to muster nine points on just 2 for 10 shooting after a very slow first half start. Despite Tristen Newton’s career high 25 points and six assists and 12 points from ever improving 7-footer Charles Coleman, it didn’t prove to be ECU’s day in the end.
Coleman talked after the game about his progress as his freshman season begins to wind down for the Pirates.
“It felt good. I was trying to just lock in,” Coleman told PirateIllustrated.com afterward, “I was trying to do all of my assignments right and just be locked in and focused.”
With the loss the Pirates dipped to 11-19 overall and 5-12 in league play while UConn improved a little to 12-16 and 5-10 in their last season in the AAC. That extra win could prove advantageous for the Huskies in terms potential tie break seeding come AAC tournament time.
Joe Dooley seemed both surprised and a little bewildered as to his team’s play and in particular their energy level on Saturday.
“It was probably the first time we’ve given in a little bit. I don’t know why. Guys have been really resilient. We had a number of things go wrong today and we couldn’t offset it,” said Dooley, The coaches came in and said it was the best warm up we’ve had all year and I thought it looked like we were running in sand all day.”
The Pirates got off to a very slow start scoring wise and as a result they had to fight uphill the whole game. Jayden Gardner had just three points at the break and the Huskies took full advantage of ten first half ECU turnovers.
“We didn’t play like ourselves today. A lot of that is obviously attributed to UConn,” Dooley stated, “They made a lot of timely shots and Vital was terrific. He got on a great roll, put us in harms way and we never could get over the hump even when we got it close.”
ECU did make a solid run and only committed three second half turnovers before eventually running out of gas and UConn eventually pulled away. For Tristen Newton it was another solid outing for him, but it would have felt better in a win.
“With twelve or ten minutes left we were down six and then I think we got kind of comfortable and they started hitting shots, so they got their lead up and they just kept it,” Newton said.
UConn got off to a quick 7-2 start in the beginning behind five early points from Isaiah Whaley. The Huskies maintained a 28-18 lead with 6:50 in the half behind the scoring of Whaley, Brendan Adams and Christian Vital.
Tremont Robinson-White canned a three-pointer for ECU, followed by a Bitumba Baruti basket and Jayden Gardner’s first bucket of the game on a three-point play in the paint that cut the lead to four at 30-26. But ECU found themselves down 42-30 at halftime after another UConn run. Christian Vital with eight points led the Huskies and Tristen Newton scored 10 to lead ECU in the first twenty minutes.
Both teams got to the foul line with regularity in the first half where ECU hit 9 straight and UConn made 9 of 11 to go along with 5 of 15 shooting from the arc. But UConn scored 18 points in the paint and got 12 second chance points in the period.
Two Charles Coleman baskets in the lane and a Tristen Newton basket in transition opened the second half to give the Pirates hope and ECU quickly cut the UConn lead to just seven.
Then a flagrant 2 technical was called on J.J. Miles for slapping the ball out of a UConn player’s hands after a whistle had stopped play and led to and an immediate ejection and two made Husky free throws. Isaiah Whaley’s dunk on the subsequent possession seemed to then all but suck the life out of the Pirates as UConn’s lead grew to 51-38 lead with 15:18 to go. Three Christian Vital treys followed and the UConn was suddenly up 60-47 again at the twelve minute mark.
Newton’s three-point jumper followed by his drive in the paint did cut the UConn lead back to eight. Then Newton was at it again on the next possession and suddenly ECU had trimmed the lead to 62-56 with 9:42 remaining.
That’s when James Bouknight went to work with bookend baskets for the Huskies. The UConn lead went back to twelve points and they never looked back.
ECU closes out the season at UCF next Sunday. Game time is at 2 o’clock.