GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The East Carolina women’s basketball team has come a long way since being picked to finish last by the AAC coaches in the preseason poll.
The team has worked its way to the championship game and is looking for its first conference championship since 2007. ECU will face Houston Thursday night at 9.
A win would automatically put the program in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time ever. There’s also a chance the Pirates could get a bid based on their play up until this point.
There have been some key moments to this point in the season for the Pirates. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Season-opening win over South Carolina State
The 71-35 win represents the largest margin of victory for the Pirates since a 41-point win over N.C. Central last season. The Pirates allowed only three points in the second quarter. Danae McNeal had a 14-point, four-rebound, two-steal performance in the first half.
Defeating High Point in OT in front of record crowd
After having an 18-6 lead early on, the Pirates stretched it further with a huge defensive outing, holding High Point to 0-for-19 shooting from three-point range and only 5-for-32 on the day. Even after the Panthers went on a 12-2 run in the second quarter and kept the game tight, the Pirates fought for the 65-54 overtime win in front of a crowd of 6,657 fans.
Danae McNeal honors
McNeal was named AAC Player of the Week two weeks in a row in January. She averaged 27 points, 4 steals, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists. McNeal started that stretch with a career-high 28 points in the Pirates’ 72-51 win on the road against Temple. Her leadership has continued throughout the season and included a 22-point performance in Wednesday’s win over Memphis as ECU reached the AAC title game.
Second half of season
Since the start of 2023, the Pirates have played 17 games. Only four of those games were losses. One of these wins was over Houston, which they were set to play Thursday in the AAC title game.
Defeating Memphis in AAC tournament
ECU came in as a No. 3 seed in the tournament and advanced by taking down No. 2 Memphis in the semifinals. McNeal led all scorers with 22 points while Micah Dennis added 17 with two threes for the second-straight game. Amiya Joyner was limited to six points but had six assists and a handful of blocks to make her mark.
All around honors
Head coach Kim McNeill was named AAC Coach of the Year, but no one was shocked. She has had one of the most remarkable turnarounds of a program in the country during the 2022-23 season. Last season, the team posted an 11-18 overall record. ECU goes into Thursday’s AAC title game with a 22-9 record. In addition to that honor, McNeal was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year and Joyner was named AAC Freshman of the Year.