GREENVILLE, N.C. – Tristen Newton hit clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch on the way to a career-high 32-point performance as East Carolina won its American Athletic Conference opener over Tulane 88-80 in overtime Wednesday night inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
ECU took the court for the first time since defeating Southern Miss back on Dec. 21 after contests against Wichita State and South Florida were postponed due to the COVID-19 developments in the Pirate program. As such, East Carolina was without the services of Ludgy Debaut, Alanzo Frink and Marlon Lestin.
The Pirates (10-3, 1-0 AAC) remained unbeaten at home this season (9-0) while handing the Green Wave (5-7, 2-1 AAC) its first loss of league action. Tulane had picked up impressive wins over Memphis and Cincinnati before ECU denied the Green Wave its first 3-0 AAC start in program history.
East Carolina won its league lid lifter for the first time since defeating South Florida 60-49 back on Dec. 28, 2016, while also claiming an American Conference victory in overtime for the first time since knocking off Memphis 88-85 Feb. 3, 2008.
Newton’s second 30-plus point effort of the campaign was complemented by four other Pirates who scored in double figures – Brandon Johnson (14), Brandon Suggs (12), Vance Jackson (11) and J.J. Miles (10). Newton scored 14 of the Pirates’ 17 points in the extra period. Suggs tacked on a career-best 11 assists for his first double-double of the season while Johnson pulled down 10 rebounds to complete his second double-double in an East Carolina uniform. Jaylen Forbes finished with 24 points for the visitors to go along with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds out of Kevin Cross.
“Tristen bailed us out and made some unbelievable plays,” head coach Joe Dooley said. “Cross put us in some tough spots and Forbes is a tough matchup. We could have folded a couple of times, but the guys stuck with it and we got some timely stops.”
ECU hit five of six from the field and all four attempts from the free throw line in the overtime period (83.3 percent) to seal the win and ended up shooting 48.5 percent (32 of 66) for the contest. Tulane fired at 46.7-percent efficiency (28 of 60) as both teams finished with nine three-point field goals. The Green Wave entered the game as the best three-point shooting team in the league by percentage but hit just nine of 26 (34.6 percent) from deep.
The Pirates shared the ball very well, recording a season-high 25 assists against 13 turnovers while winning the rebounding battle by a 35-32 margin. East Carolina forced Tulane into 16 turnovers and scored 21 points as a result of those miscues.
ECU showed no signs of its extended break from action early on as it built a 15-10 lead following a second-chance layup by Johnson at the 13:44 mark. The Pirates claimed their first double-digit advantage of the night thanks to a Jackson triple that put East Carolina ahead 27-16 with 10:10 left in the opening stanza. With time winding down, a driving layup by RJ Felton afforded ECU what would be its largest lead of the game at 39-24, but the Green Wave outscored the Pirates 13-4 in the remaining minutes to trail by six at the intermission.
Both squads shot the ball at over 50 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes while East Carolina had the edge on the glass 18-11. Cook and Cross both netted double figures in the period with 11 and 10 points respectively as Jackson paced the Pirates with nine.
Despite ECU moving in front by 10 at 47-37 in the opening stages of the second half, Tulane kept whittling away at its deficit and finally grabbed its first lead of the contest when Sion James converted with a layup in the paint the propel the Green Wave ahead 55-53. The teams traded the lead back and forth before finally settling for a 64-64 deadlock with exactly four minutes to go in regulation.
Forbes looked to have delivered the dagger with 24 seconds left, draining a three-pointer to make it 69-66, but Newton answered in the dying moments with a triple of his own that tied things up at 71. Cross nearly won it at the buzzer, but his hook shot rolled around the rim and out as time expired.
Tulane grabbed the upper hand as overtime commenced, leading 76-73 following a pair of Forbes free throws. Newton would not be denied, however, promptly knotting the score up at 76 with a three and eventually putting the Pirates in front for good with a floater in the lane to make it 81-80. He then put the Green Wave away for good with a long triple from the left wing that gave East Carolina an 86-80 cushion with under a minute left. Tulane never threatened again.
Up Next: ECU plays the first of two-straight American Conference road games Saturday, Jan. 8, at Temple. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.