GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina found itself in another close contest against one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference Wednesday night, but UCF hit the shots it needed down the stretch to post a 58-51 victory inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
The Pirates (5-6, 3-3 AAC) dropped their third-straight league game while the Knights (6-2, 4-1 AAC) pulled into a second-place tie with Temple in the league standings.
“I thought we showed a little more fight tonight,” head coach Kim McNeill said. “It wasn’t as much as we needed, but I saw some progression in that area from last Wednesday’s game against Temple. We need to put together more runs than we are right now and get better defensively. We did not reach any of our defensive goals tonight. There is a lot of season left. We can’t hang our heads right now.”
Sierra DaCosta reached a milestone in the contest, scoring a game-high 19 points to surpass 1,000 for her career. Lashonda Monk chipped with 16 points while Tiara Chambers secured a team and evening-best nine rebounds. Chambers added two blocks in her first action since the Tulane game back on Dec. 22. Alisha Lewis paced five UCF double-digit scorers with 12 points.
Both teams connected on 19 shots from the field, but the Knights arguably won the game at the free throw line where they drained 18 of 25 attempts. The Pirates were whistled for 25 fouls to UCF’s 11 and managed just a 4-for-8 showing at the stripe. The visitors out-rebounded ECU 37-30 and recorded 10 steals off 15 Pirate turnovers. East Carolina collected nine steals as the Knights committed 17 turnovers of their own.
UCF came out hot, hitting three of its first four shots, but East Carolina received a pair of triples from Monk and DaCosta to pull even at six with three minutes gone. The Pirates started to dial in from range as DaCosta drained another three as part of a 9-5 run that put ECU ahead 15-11 with 1:21 on the clock, but the Knights scored the last two points of the period through a pair of free throws to leave East Carolina with a two-point lead.
UCF raced out to a quick 21-17 advantage in the second before Monk dropped in a three-pointer to pull the Pirates within one at the 4:54 mark. ECU could not quite catch up the rest of the half, entering the break trailing 27-23. The Knights scored the final three points at the free throw line.
DaCosta and Sanders paced all scorers in the half with 10 points while Monk collected nine of her own. UCF held the upper hand on the glass, pulling down 19 rebounds to East Carolina’s 13. The Pirates were also whistled for 13 personal fouls, leading to 11 free throw attempts for the visitors. The Knights were called for just three fouls in the half as Taniyah Thompson hit East Carolina’s only two tries from the charity stripe.
ECU struggled to put the ball in the basket in the early portion of the third quarter, missing five of its first six attempts from the field and allowing UCF to extend its lead to 34-26. The Knights jumped out to as much as a 10-point cushion, but the Pirates went on a 10-3 run over the final three minutes of the stanza to get back into the contest and trail by just three entering the fourth.
East Carolina scratched and clawed in the first five minutes of the final period, eventually tying the game at 44 via a DaCosta three-point field goal. After Masseny Kaba put the Knights in front 50-45 by driving the basketball for a layup, Chambers answered with a layup to cut the deficit to three with 2:50 on the clock. The Pirates were unable to come any closer than that though, as UCF scored the next five points to essentially seal the game.
“We have to keep learning through every situation and continue growing,” McNeill added. “It’s essential that we stick together during this process and realize that adversity builds strength.”
Up Next: East Carolina wraps up its two-game homestand Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when it welcomes Houston to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum for an American Athletic Conference contest.