CINCINNATI, Ohio – Lashonda Monk’s career-high 32-point performance led four East Carolina players in double figures Sunday afternoon as the Pirates knocked off Cincinnati 74-67 at Fifth-Third Arena to remain unbeaten in American Athletic Conference play.
ECU (4-3, 2-0 AAC) won its third-straight contest overall and improved to 3-2 on the road. The Pirates have more road victories this season (three) than all of last year when they went 2-11 away from Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. East Carolina has also now started AAC play 2-0 for the first time since joining the circuit prior to the 2014-15 campaign. The Bearcats (1-4, 0-1 AAC) came up short their league opener and dropped their fourth consecutive decision. East Carolina avenged its loss to Cincinnati in last year’s regular season finale when the homestanding Bearcats rolled past the Pirates, 76-53.
“That’s a great win against a really good team,” head coach Kim McNeill said. “They’ve done so well the last couple of years. For us to come here and do that with what we’ve gone through the last 48 hours, it shows we’re going in the right direction. Toughness. Learning how to deal with adversity.”
The contest was a battle of two preseason All-American Conference First-Team selections in Monk and Cincinnati’s Ilmar’I Thomas and Monk out-dueled the Co-AAC Preseason Player of the Year by nearly 10 points. Thomas scored 23 to pace the Bearcats while Jadyn Scott and Jillian Hayes also reached double figures with 11 and 10 points respectively.
Monk turned in one of the most memorable recent performances in program history, knocking down 10 of 19 attempts from the floor and nine of 10 from the free throw line while also chipping in with six rebounds, four steals, two blocks and a trio of three-point field goals. She is the first ECU player to eclipse the 30-point plateau in a game since Ariyana Williams posted 34 in a win over Savannah State back on Dec. 20, 2017.
“We had some really good individual performances,” McNeill added. “Monk played like a first-team all-conference player. That’s the expectation we have from her every game. We had four people in double figures, so it was a complete team effort. Did we have some lulls where we made some key mistakes? Yes. But, for us to be able to regroup, get back on track and go full steam ahead just shows the growth in our team.”
In addition to Monk’s heroics, Sierra DaCosta, Maddie Moore and Taniyah Thompson all netted 10 points. Moore made her East Carolina debut after the NCAA granted immediately eligibility to all Division I transfers earlier in the week.
The Pirates took good care of the ball, turning it over just 12 times, while forcing 24 miscues out of Cincinnati and grabbing 11 steals. ECU also held its own on the glass, matching the Bearcats with 32 rebounds. East Carolina did a great job of getting to the free throw line, converting a season-high 27 of 33 (81.8 percent) attempts.
The teams battled back and forth through the early minutes before two free throws by Monk put ECU in front 8-4 at the 6:31 mark. A few minutes later, Monk nailed back-to-back triples as the Pirates pulled ahead 14-9. Monk continued her solid opening quarter with a layup off a steal that gave East Carolina its largest advantage of the day at 22-15 with under a minute to play. Thompson scored the last points of the stanza with a jumper, leaving the Pirates with a 24-17 edge heading to the second.
Another layup by Monk propelled ECU to a 10-point advantage early in the second, but the Pirates went cold from there. East Carolina was unable to score for over five minutes and the Bearcats took advantage by putting together an 11-0 run. A pair of Ryann Evans free throws swung the lead back to East Carolina at 29-28 before a fastbreak layup by Monk afforded the Pirates a three-point cushion with 1:38 on the clock. Sofia Gritzali netted four consecutive free throws to give her team a one-point lead in the final minute, but Xianna Josephs beat the buzzer to send ECU into the break with a 33-32 lead.
Monk led all scorers with 14 points in the first half while Thomas contributed a team-best eight for the home side. The Pirates shot the ball at a 40-percent (10 of 25) clip from the floor as compared to the Bearcats’ 40.9-percent (9 of 22) showing. Cincinnati also held a slight 14-13 advantage in the rebounding column.
An 8-2 ECU run to begin the third quarter saw the Pirates build a 41-34 edge, but the Purple and Gold was not done there. East Carolina kept the clamps down defensively and found itself with a 10-point cushion at the 4:32 mark after a pair of free throws by Moore. The lead would grow all the way to 51-40 following a Thompson layup off of an offensive rebound. However, the Bearcats kept within striking distance after netting the next seven to pull within four. Monk and Thomas traded baskets in the final 10 seconds of the period as ECU took a 53-49 lead into the final 10 minutes.
The first five minutes of the final quarter belonged to the Pirates, who out-scored Cincinnati 15-4 over the stretch thanks in part to some clutch outside shooting from Monk and Thompson. With ECU ahead by 15 at 68-53, the Bearcats made one last push. Cincinnati was able to whittle its deficit all the way down to three, 68-65, with 1:28 remaining, but the Pirates stiffened and wore the Bearcats down at the free throw line. East Carolina drained six-straight attempts down the stretch to salt the game away.
“As I keep saying, I’m so excited for this team,” McNeill stated. “We haven’t even reached the tip of our potential. We’re still moving forward and growing, but I’m just so proud of the perseverance we’ve shown here over the last couple of days.”
Up Next: East Carolina welcomes Tulane to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum Tuesday for an American Athletic Conference contest. Tipoff is slated for Noon and the game will be streamed live via ESPN+.