Dylan Johnson / ESPN Greenville
East Carolina University lost a tough overtime game 72-68 against the University of South Florida Sunday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. It marks the third straight loss and the eighth loss in nine games for the Pirates. ECU (9-14, 2-9 AAC) is now in the second to last place in the American Athletic Conference standings, while USF (17-6, 7-4 AAC) sits tied for fourth place with Temple. Here are five takeaways from the ECU loss to USF.
1. I love Judy Lund t-shirts: Let’s start with something simply great to see. As captured by the ESPN broadcast analyst Mike O’Donnell, ECU graduate assistant Robby Lund’s mother is going through severe stage 4 cancer treatment. The team surprised Lund with “I (heart) Judy Lund” shirts at shoot-around. Lund had no idea and was blown away by the gesture.
2. Road struggles continue: ECU continues to struggle on the road. ECU is 0-9 this season in games away from Minges Coliseum and hasn’t won a road game since winning 82-80 at Tulane (also the last team ECU has defeated this season) on Feb. 14, 2018 – almost an entire year ago. This loss was the closest the Pirates have come to a road win all season, let alone in conference play. Lucky for Pirate fans, ECU’s next road game comes against that very Tulane Green Wave team on Feb. 23.
3. Shawn Williams thawed out just a little bit: Williams played an awe-inspiring 41 minutes in the loss and scored 13 points. Williams was coming into play with these showings behind him: seven points on 3-for-10 (1-for-5 from 3) shooting in loss to Wichita State, nine points on 2-for-6 (1-for-3 from 3) in the loss against UConn, and the really painful two points on 0-for-7 (0-for-5 from 3) shooting in the win against Tulane. But Williams caught fire against USF in the first half, scoring 12 points (and three assists) while going 4-for-4 from the field, all 3 pointers. The reason I say just a little bit, Williams did not follow it up and instead scored one point in the second half on 0-for-3 shooting. Still, improvement and increased confidence.
4. Joe Dooley taking away practice jerseys inspired the players: As in a story in 247sports.com on Saturday, Joe Dooley was disgusted enough with the 65-49 loss at home against Wichita State that he took the players practice jerseys away from them. “Right now, we don’t deserve to wear East Carolina stuff. We’ve got to create a mindset where it matters and you care,” Dooley told Stephen Igoe. Whatever Dooley did, the players responded. The Pirates put much more of a fight up against a very much-improved USF team than it did against a lesser Wichita State team. ECU was dominated on the glass by USF, but it did create 20 turnovers compared with just nine turnovers allowed by the Pirates. The Pirates turned those turnovers into 18 points.
5. ECU learned from mistakes last time: (lost 77-57 at Minges after big lead) USF marked the first team the Pirates played for a second time so far this season and ECU showed an ability to learn from its mistakes. In both games ECU jumped out to big leads, 19-6 in Greenville and a 17-7 lead in Tampa that became as much as 13 in the first half. Both times USF stormed back with a run of its own, this time being a 12-2 run that tied the game at 45-45 in the second half. In the first meeting, ECU never handled the run and ended up being run out of the building in a 20-point defeat. This time ECU handled it and stayed tight with USF down the stretch of the second half and overtime. It simply became too much for ECU to overcome with Isaac Fleming, Jayden Gardner and KJ Davis all fouled out. ECU also certainly benefited from USF’s best player, Alexis Yetna, being out for the game. Yetna scored 28 points and grabbed 13 boards in the first meeting. At the same time, the Pirates simply shot better, 50 percent from 3 compared with 23.8 percent in the first meeting.
From here, ECU returns home to host Memphis (14-10, 6-5 AAC) on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Memphis defeated ECU 78-72 back on Jan. 10 in Memphis. That was when ECU was coming off of its upset win over Cincinnati and was rolling high. The Tigers feature a dynamic offense, which is leading the AAC with 81.8 points per game and 15.9 assists per game but also has the league’s worst scoring defense with 76.7 points allowed per game. Key players include Jeremiah Martin and Kyvon Davenport. Martin scores 16.5 points per game while dishing out 4.4 assists per game and went off for 41 points earlier in the season. Davenport scores 14.8 points per game and grabs 7.3 boards per game for the Tigers