GREENVILLE, N.C. – Houston’s early lead was too much for East Carolina to overcome Saturday afternoon as the Cougars defeated the Pirates 66-56 in an American Athletic Conference contest inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
ECU (5-7, 3-4 AAC) cut a 17-point deficit down to six in the final quarter, but Houston (7-4, 4-3 AAC) hit some big shots down the stretch to leave Greenville with the win.
“Credit to Houston for playing as hard as they did,” head coach Kim McNeill said. “They came out in the first half and really put us back on our heels with their defensive pressure. We knew it was coming and worked on it the last two days, but we started out very hesitant and allowed them to dictate the game.”
Taniyah Thompson posted a team-high 15 points while Maddie Moore notched her first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Lashonda Monk added 10 points, three assists and four steals. Britney Onyeje and Tatyana Hill led the Cougars with 15 points apiece.
East Carolina out-shot Houston (42.6-40 percent), but the Cougars nailed eight three-point field goals and got the better of things on the glass by a 38-33 margin. The Pirates forced the visitors into 23 turnovers and pocketed 12 steals as a result.
ECU got off to a slow start, missing on seven of their first nine shots from the floor and allowing Houston to build a 10-4 lead over five minutes into the contest. Four quick points by Ryann Evans cut the Cougar advantage to 13-10 with 3:04 on the clock, but East Carolina did not score again as Houston exited the period ahead 18-10.
The Cougars kept the pressure on the second, putting together a 10-2 run to start the stanza and pulling in front 28-12. The Pirates could draw no closer than 10 the rest of the way as Hill converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 10 seconds to go to leave Houston with a 33-20 cushion at the break.
Hill paced the Cougars with eight points in the opening two quarters while Thompson scored eight for the Pirates.
A three by Onyeje afforded Houston its largest lead of the day at 39-22 under two minutes into the second half, but Thompson dropped in a layup as part of a 5-0 ECU run to slice the Cougar advantage to 12. The Pirates were unable to get the game into single digits the remainder of the period and Houston carried a comfortable 53-36 edge into the final period.
Moore took over to start the fourth quarter, notching six quick points to make it a 53-43 contest with 8:21 remaining. East Carolina turned up the heat defensively and began to mount a charge. With just over five minutes to play, Monk hit on a pair of three-pointers to draw the Pirates within six at 59-53. Despite getting a stop on the next Cougar possession, ECU could not convert on the other end and Dymond Gladney drained a three to put Houston back up by nine. The Cougars extended their lead back up to 12 in the remaining minutes before settling for the 10-point victory.
“When we were on that four-game winning streak, we were really clicking,” McNeill stated. “We’ve got to figure out how to get back to playing together and playing selfless basketball.”
Up Next: East Carolina travels to Tulsa Wednesday evening, facing off against the Golden Hurricane at 7 p.m. inside the Reynolds Center.