GREENVILLE, N.C. - C.J. Cooper led talented Texas - El Paso with 15 points as the Miners used their depth and size to pick up their sixth straight with a victory over ECU 58-47 in Minges Coliseum Thursday night.
Cooper went 6-14 from the floor including three treys as UTEP(17-6/7-1) continue to play like one of the league's top contenders. Julian Washburn hit shots from inside and out in collecting 14 points while big John Bohannon went 6-7 from the floor against the smaller Pirates, dominating in the paint for 12 points and 14 boards.
After the game, East Carolina Head Basketball Coach Jeff Lebo was still proud of his team mostly for the way they hung in there. Even though the size and length of UTEP(17-6/7-3) required the smaller Pirates to make up the difference in other ways, ECU was in a good position to strike if the shots had gone down.
"It was more of the same tonight with the rebounds and second chance opportunities were the difference in the game," Jeff Lebo told PirateIllustrated.com after the game, "we battled hard, bad enough not to get the first one but the second ones were really the ones that doomed us."
The Pirates were led in scoring by Akeem Richmond who with 20 points also broke his own ECU single season record for three-pointers with his 106th trey of the season. Richmond kept the game close but in the end UTEP's size advantage paid big dividends.
"He was efficient in breaking his own school record," Lebo said, "Six of ten and got off to a real good start. They changed and put some more size on him after he made the first three(shots). I don't think he forced many tonight and I thought he was solid and he played pretty good. We had two guys who really scored for us and they had three for them."
For Richmond, it was just another night at the office and another brick in the wall.
"It feels good but I'd rather have the win. We've got to keep working. We prepared ourselves really well all week. Just executing our plays. He played pretty good defense. He's 6-8 and I'm 6-feet, so he played pretty good defense," said Richmond in the postgame, "I want to give a shoutout to the fans. We really appreciate the love and support even though we aren't doing as well as we'd like to be doing, they show up every night and show us the love and we really appreciate that."
Finding ways defensively to stay in the game, get some defensive stops while keeping a short lineup fresh has been no easy task for Lebo.
"It was another game where we played zone the whole game and we didn't really put them on the foul line. Height is one thing, but when you're talking about their length, there's a foot difference," said Lebo, "We're right there, we just have to get some stops. We missed some easy ones. Size was a factor around the rim. Caleb and Mike struggled tonight offensively, so we didn't have enough firepower to get anything going consistently."
ECU(12-11/1-7) put in a quality performance for much of the night though and had their chances throughout the game. The Pirates started off with hot shooting early on three straight Richmond three-pointers to give the Pirates an early 9-2 lead.
Tim Floyd's Miners then went on a 12-2 run on baskets from Bohannon, Cedrick Lang, Washburn and a trey from C.J. Cooper. Two buckets in the paint from Bohannon, a C.J. Cooper trey and a baseline jumper from Matt Willms extended the UTEP lead to 27-18 at intermission.
The Miners capitalized on a big size advantage with 14 points in the paint in the first twenty minutes on 48 percent shooting. UTEP limited the Pirates to 32 percent from the floor. ECU kept things close on 4-9 shooting from the arc despite a 22-9 halftime disparity on the glass.
The Pirates cut the lead to four early in the second half on a Roberts-Campbell drive and a three-pointer from Akeem Richmond.
C.J. Cooper's corner jumper extended the Miners lead to eleven at the twelve minute mark. But Roberts-Campbell's trey with 4:46 to go pulled the Pirates back to within seven at 51-44 before a reverse lay-in and two free throws on the next possession from Washburn along with a Vince Hunter tap-in put the game away late for UTEP.
The Miners scored 32 points in the paint including 22 second chance points. They ended up shooting 52 percent overall from the floor, in keeping with their position
as the best field goal shooting team in Conference USA.
The Pirates had a tough night shooting the basketball overall. ECU was limited to 35.4 percent, but they did hit 9 of 20 from the arc in a game where the Miners size advantage really controlled the glass to the tune of 42-17 putting a larger premium on hitting shots.
Join us for PI-TV Postgame with Coaches Lebo and Floyd along with Akeem Richmond and Paris Roberts-Campbell here on PirateIllustrated.com.