ECU women’s basketball team opens season Tuesday at Middle Tennessee

ECU Pirates

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – It will be a stiff test to open the 2021-22 season as the East Carolina women’s basketball team travels to defending Conference USA Champion Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night.

It will be a new look East Carolina team that take the court against the Blue Raiders, with only seven players returning from the team that went 8-14 overall and finished sixth in the AAC with a 6-10 conference record. The leading returning scorer is junior Taniyah Thompson, who averaged 12.0 points and has scored 675 points in her first two seasons in Greenville. Senior Tiara Chambers is the leading returning rebounder for the Pirates, pulling down 4.2 rebounds per game as well as swatting a team-high 20 shots.

Sophomores Alexsia Rose and Synia Johnson both came on strong down the stretch of their rookie seasons, with Johnson earning a spot on the AAC Weekly Honor after scoring a combined 24 points against Cincinnati and Memphis. The duo also did a good job of sharing the ball and will return as the top playmakers after Rose handed out 25 assists a year ago while Johnson had 20. Rounding out the returners who appeared in a game a year ago are junior Xianna Josephs and sophomore Morgan Moseley.

Although she counts among the returners, Tuesday could be the first game for graduate student Raven Johnson since November 2019. Johnson has played just four games over the past two seasons due to injuries, but she was the second-leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and leading rebounder (6.2 rpg) during the 2018-19 campaign.

Joining the seven returners are seven newcomers, a group that includes four transfers from Power 5 programs and three freshmen. Graduate student Tylar Bennett and junior Danae McNeal will be teammates at a second school after playing together for two seasons at Clemson. Bennett arrives in Greenville after finishing second all-time at Clemson and is 17th among all active players with 173 career blocks. Bennett’s best season as a Tiger included averaging 4.7 points and grabbing 6.2 rebounds. McNeal appeared in just 33 games as a Tiger, but she was a top-50 recruit nationally during her prep career.

Graduate student Da’Ja Green arrives from Virginia Tech where she spent one season after three seasons playing at an All-SoCon level. Green is 18th among active players with 477 career assists and she has shot 36.1% from three-point range en route to scoring 1,092 points. Junior Brittany Franklin will return close to home after the Plymouth, N.C., native started her career at Kansas. Franklin saw injuries limit her to just 31 games, but she grabbed 75 rebounds and swatted 23 shots during her freshman year.

The three freshmen joining the program are Iycez Adams, Laila Acox and Paige Lyons. Adams, a product of Kernersville, N.C., was ranked No. 2 on the 2021 Top-30 Triad players by Reign Scouting. She spent her senior season at Quality Education Academy (QEA) and she helped lead QEA to the 2020-21 USA National Prep Championship. Acox was rated as the No. 1 recruit in the state of South Carolina coming out of Ridge View HS and was named to the All-State team after averaging 22.1 points and 14.8 rebounds during her senior season. Lyons spent three years at Wesleyan School before finishing her career at Dutchtown High School. Lyons helped navigate her teams to their respective state final fours during her each of her prep seasons, including winning a state title during her freshman campaign.

Like East Carolina, Middle Tennessee will be welcoming seven newcomers this season. The Blue Raiders are coming off a 17-8 overall season that saw them win both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles, falling to Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Courtney Whitson and Alexis Whittington are the two starters returning from that championship squad, with Whitson averaging 10.6 points and grabbing a team-high 7.7 rebounds while Whittington led the team with 25 blocks. Middle Tennessee added experience when the Blue Raiders welcomed Dor Saar from Maine. Saar left Maine as the school’s leader in 3-point field goals (235) and is the only player in Maine history with more than 1,000 points and 500 assists.

It will be the third all-time meeting between the schools and the first since the two programs played in Greenville during the 2019-20 season opener. Middle Tennessee is 2-0 all-time against ECU, winning 68-66 in that 2019 matchup. Raven Johnson recorded a double-double for East Carolina, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while Thompson scored 11 points.

Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., at Middle Tennessee’s Murphy Center. The game will be broadcast on CUSA.TV and fans can follow the live stats here.

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