Pirates hold off SMU to advance in AAC Tournament

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After leading for nearly the entire game, the No. 8 seed ECU women’s basketball team had to make a late run in overtime to top No. 9 seed SMU 50-48 on Friday afternoon in the first round of the AAC Championship.

“Survive and advance, that is what it’s about right now,” said acting head coach Nicole Mealing. “I think that we played with the energy that we needed to in order to win this game. Shots were not falling like we wanted them to but our defense was there and we played tough defense for 45 minutes because of the overtime. I am just so proud of them and of their effort with what they did today.”

ECU had four players score at least 10 points, but none had more than 12. Salita Greene had a doube-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds as well as scoring the go-ahead field goal in the extra period. Alex Frazier and Raven Johnson both had 12 points to lead ECU while Lashonda Monk had 10 points of her own.

The first half was defined by defense as both teams shot a combined 18-of-66 (.273) in the opening half. ECU opened the game on a 9-2 run, but it was a two-possession game (14-10) at the end of the first quarter after SMU scored eight of the next 13 points.

The second quarter was one of the lowest scoring periods of the year for ECU, with the two teams combining for 15 points. The Pirates had four steals in the period and scored six point off SMU turnovers. The Mustangs shot just 3-of-15 (.200) from the field while ECU shot 4-of-19 (.211). At the half, ECU led 22-17.

In the third, each team had a stretch where they dominated. ECU’s defense from the second quarter carrier over as SMU scored just one point for the first 5:17 of the third. During that span, ECU went on a 10-1 run, culminating in an old-fashioned three-point play for Monk.  

With ECU holding its largest lead of the game, 32-18, SMU’s offense finally came to life while ECU’s went into hibernation. The Mustangs rattled off a 10-0 run which consisted of four layups and a pair of free throws. ECU got a lifeline when Frazier found Greene for a layup as time expired in the quarter, setting the score at 34-28 heading into the fourth.

The Mustangs had their best offensive quarter in the fourth, shooting 6-of-13 (.462) from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. ECU still led 42-34 after Johnson made a short jumper with just under four minutes to go, but SMU went on a 12-4 run to tie the game. The dagger came with 27 seconds left when Kayla White made SMU’s first triple of the game to tie the score at 46-46 with under thirty seconds remaining. ECU ran one final play, but Greene’s attempted tip-in hung on the rim before falling out, sending the game to overtime.

Reeling from losing its lead, things got worse for ECU at the start of the extra frame as SMU’s Johnasia Cash scored on the opening possession to give SMU its first lead of the game. While ECU struggled to tie the game, missing its first five shots in overtime, the Pirates at least made sure SMU did not extend the lead. Finally, nearly halfway through the five minute overtime, Monk came up with a steal and turned it into a layup to tie the game.

The game-winning basket came with 1:49 remaining. Greene caught the ball at the left elbow and drove with her right hand, floating a jumper up and over a defender and in. From there, ECU forced SMU into two missed shots and two turnovers, holding on for the win.

For SMU, Paige Bayliss had 15 points, the only Mustang in double figures. ECU held a 53-50 advantage in rebounding, with the 53 rebounds the most ECU has pulled down in a game this season.

The Pirates will advance to the AAC quarterfinals for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in five trips to the conference tournament. ECU will take on No. 1 seed UConn on Saturday afternoon. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m., inside Mohegan Sun Arena and will be streamed on ESPN3. 

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