A swarming defensive effort helped the ECU women’s basketball team overcome an early deficit and top Wake Forest 70-61 on Saturday afternoon inside Minges Coliseum.
“I think this team is doing a better job of moving on to the next play when something doesn’t go our way and collectively, not just one person,” said interim head coach Chad Killinger. “I feel like everybody is doing a good job of moving on. Our quote for this game was ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ because we knew that they were going to be a lot bigger than us, so we used our speed to our advantage. You can’t measure heart. You can measure height, jumping ability and wingspan but you can’t measure heart and that’s what keeps this team driving forward every day.”
After starting the first four games of the season by taking early leads, ECU found itself on the other side of a fast start, as Wake Forest raced out to a 17-2 lead in the first seven minutes of the game. The Pirates made only one field goal in the span, with Necole Hope scoring, while turning the ball over four times. ECU righted the ship after a timeout, when Salita Greene made a pair of jumpers and then Raven Johnson made a layup to cut the margin to 18-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Defense Ramps Up
The biggest point of optimism for ECU in the first quarter was the Pirates’ ability to force the Demon Deacons into turnovers. Wake Forest turned the ball over eight times in the opening period, and in the second quarter ECU was able to continue generating steals and turn them into points. The Pirates forced three turnovers and scored eight quick points to shrink the lead to 18-16.
“I’m just really proud of these girls,” Killinger said. “To get down 17-2, it would have been really easy to fold. I’ve seen a lot of teams do that. When we got to that timeout, we changed defenses. We had to put a little more pressure on them. Our guards did that and we went to a little smaller lineup. We thought we could play faster and that would help us get some easy baskets. They play that 2-3 zone. They’re so big and they take up a lot of space. When you put four kids out there that are almost 6 foot 2 inches, it’s hard to be able to move the ball. So being able to press and switch some things on the defensive end allowed us to attack and transition.”
The Demon Deacons regained their composure and scored seven straight points to once again extend the lead. But Raven Johnson and Alex Frazier caught fire for the Pirates. First, Johnson buried a jumper off a pass from Lashonda Monk. The junior guard then pulled down a defensive rebound and got to the free throw line at the other end. Frazier tipped in an ECU miss for a quick ECU run. After a Wake Forest layup, Johnson made a shot from behind the arc to draw ECU within two and soon after, Frazier hit another jumper to tie the game at 27. ECU took its first lead of the game with 1:08 remaining in the half when Johnson picked off a Wake Forest pass and cruised in for a layup. Wake Forest fired back with a 5-0 run, but two more Johnson free throws left ECU trailing just 32-31 heading into the locker room.
Third Quarter Dominance
After forcing 15 turnovers in the first half, the Pirates nearly doubled that total in a frenetic third period. ECU scored nine of the first 11 points in the period to take a 40-34 lead, with all nine coming off Wake Forest turnovers. After Wake closed the gap to 42-40, another stretch of ECU steals led to the largest Pirate lead of the game. Greene tipped in a missed three-pointer and Monk followed it with a steal and jumper of her own. Another Demon Deacon turnover led to a layup for Greene. Minutes later, Johnson picked off another pass and ran in for an uncontested layup to stretch the ECU lead to 10. The quarter finished with a flourish when Tamia Hicks ripped down an offensive rebound and completed a three-point play with less than a second remaining.
Monk Helps Pirates Hold On
With ECU clinging to a lead through the fourth quarter, Monk stepped up again and again to make sure the Pirates closed out the win. The first time came after Wake Forest had scored the first six points of the quarter and shrank the lead to 55-51. Monk found space on the wing and hit a shot from behind the arc to force a Wake Forest timeout. The Demon Deacons got even closer with under three minutes remaining, as the score was just 58-55, but Monk hit another long ball to pad the lead. She followed it with a steal and a layup before Justice Gee found Frazier in transition to extend the lead to 10 once again. Wake Forest never got closer than seven the rest of the way, with Monk and Johnson making five of six free throws down the stretch.
Leading Demon Deacons
Alex Sharp led Wake Forest with 15 points while Elisa Penna also had 13. Ona Udoh controlled the boards, corralling 12 rebounds. Gina Conti handed out eight assists for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest was especially deadly from behind the arc, shooting 8-of-19 on three-pointers.
Inside the Box Score
The victory was the first over an ACC opponent since ECU beat NC State on Dec. 9, 2007…Monk and Johnson both set new career-highs in points, finishing with 25 and 24 respectively…They are the first set of Pirate teammates to both score 20 points since Bre McDonald and Kristen Gaffney did on Feb. 22, 2017 against Cincinnati…Monk made a career-high 11 field goals, the first Pirate to make at least 10 shots since Destiny Campbell did against Houston on Feb. 14, 2018…Greene played a career-high 37 minutes and pulled in 11 rebounds, the first double-digit rebounding effort for ECU this season. Greene also swatted a career-best three shots to go along with a trio of steals…Monk finished with nine steals, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in program history and is the second-highest total in AAC history, trailing only her own 10 against SMU last season…The 35 turnovers ECU forced are a season-high…Frazier made her season-debut and finished with six points and an assist in 22 minutes.
ECU hits the road for the first time this season as the Pirates travel to William & Mary on Tuesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., in Willamsburg, Va.