TOWSON, Md. – East Carolina rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to knot the score in the fourth quarter, but Towson was able to hold on for an 89-81 non-conference victory to open the 2020-21 season Wednesday afternoon inside SECU Arena.
ECU entered the game shorthanded, playing without the services of 2019-20 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Lashonda Monk who averaged 14.9 points per game a season ago.
The Tigers (1-0) shot 50 percent (28-of-56) from the floor and out-rebounded the Pirates (0-1) by a 41-28 margin, while ECU converted 25 of its 67 (37.3 percent) field goal attempts. After finishing second in the nation in turnovers forced per game a season ago, the Pirates’ stifling defense did not let up as Towson coughed the ball up 26 times leading to 30 East Carolina points. ECU also pocketed 11 steals.
Graduate student and guard Sierra Dacosta turned in a huge debut in the Purple and Gold, scoring a game-high 28 points while hitting 13 of 16 free throw attempts and pulling down a team-best seven rebounds. Freshman guard Synia Johnson also reached double figures in her first collegiate contest, finishing with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Sophomore guard Taniyah Thompson, who was named unanimously to the 2019-20 AAC All-Freshman Team, chipped in with 11 points of her own.
Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year Kionna Jeter paced the Tigers with a double-double of 23 points and 12 rebounds to go along with 15 and 13-point efforts out of Aleah Nelson and Shavonne Smith. Nelson also dished out five assists.
The 81 points scored by the Pirates represent the most in second-year head coach Kim McNeill’s tenure while Dacosta is the first Pirate to hit more than 10 free throws in a contest since Monk knocked down 15 against Memphis back on Feb. 9, 2019.
The teams traded the lead back and forth for much of the first five minutes before junior forward Tiara Chambers scored a basket and hit the ensuing free throw to put East Carolina in front 14-9 with 4:41 remaining in the quarter. The Pirate advantage would balloon to nine following a Xianna Josephs jumper and ECU would settle for a 22-16 edge heading into the second stanza.
The home team began to rally as the second quarter commenced as Towson put together a 12-4 run to knot the score at 26 with 7:01 on the clock. The rally continued for the Tigers and they would stretch their lead all the way to 13 at 50-37 after a Nelson fastbreak layup. The Pirates would score the final three points of the half to leave Towson with a 50-40 cushion at the break.
Jeter led all players with 17 points in the first half while Dacosta finished with 14, including an 8-for-8 performance at the line. The Tigers hit an astounding 73.9 percent of their shots from the field while limiting ECU to 36.4 percent.
Wiebke Schwartau kept Towson in front by 13 with a layup early in the third period, but a three-point play out of Thompson sparked a 12-0 East Carolina run that sliced the Tigers’ lead all the way down to one with 3:34 to play. Maggie Sharp knocked down a three to stretch the Towson advantage back to six, but freshman guard Alexsia Rose and Johnson hit on back-to-back layups to keep the Pirates close. Rose converted a pair of free throws for the final points of the stanza as the Tigers carried a slim 64-62 edge into the final 10 minutes of play.
East Carolina rallied to tie the score at 70 after a big three-point field goal by sophomore guard/forward Ryann Evans with almost three minutes gone in the fourth, but Nelson answered in kind with a triple to put her side back on top. The Pirates got a couple of defensive stops in the next few minutes. However, Towson had the answer each time and was able to keep ECU at an arm’s length the rest of the way.
Up Next: The Pirates return to the court Sunday, Nov. 29, for a matchup at Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia. Tipoff inside John Paul Jones Arena is scheduled for 1 p.m. The contest will be streamed live ACC Network Extra.