Dylan Johnson / ESPN Greenville
East Carolina University had been building off multiple good performances, upsetting Cincinnati, almost upsetting Memphis, hanging in with UCF in the second half. Just as quickly, the Pirates took a step back Wednesday night.
Despite standout freshman Jayden Gardner’s 27 points, ECU (8-9, 1-4 AAC) couldn’t overcome a slow start and lost 85-74 to Temple (14-3, 4-1 AAC) in Minges Coliseum. The Pirates scored the first points of the game, but the Owls then went on a 21-0 run to take an early 20-point lead.
ECU spent the rest of the first half whittling the lead down to as little as eight with a 17-8 run that was led by Seth LeDay’s eight points. Temple closed the half on an 8-2 run and led 37-23 at halftime.
ECU head coach Joe Dooley admitted that the Pirates never seemed to have any sync going and that the start is disappointing, saying they haven’t played like that in a while.
ECU made its closest run in the second half, scoring the first nine points and going on an 18-5 run and closing the deficit to 42-41. Temple did as it had all game long, responding with an 8-0 run to push the lead back out and ECU didn’t get closer than six points
within the lead for the last 10 minutes of action.
Gardner, the AAC leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, had his eighth 20-point game of the season. KJ Davis had another strong game, chipping in 15 points and LeDay finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Temple featured much more experience than ECU. The Pirates only have one senior, Isaac Fleming, and are still a young program building under first-year coach Joe Dooley. The Owls rely on more juniors and seniors to lead the way. Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led the way with 23 points and a career-high seven three-pointers, while junior guard Quinton Rose added 19 points.
Gardner and Davis both agreed that you can tell when playing on the court against a team that has much more experience than you and is calm and in control of the game.
ECU came into the game among the leaders in three-point percentage defense, but the Owls shot 50 percent (11-for-22) from the three-point line in an offensive barrage against the Pirates that also saw Temple shoot 49 percent from the field overall. Combine that
with ECU shooting just 30 percent (6-for-20) and it is easy to see why Temple controlled most of the game.
ECU went with an unusually small rotation, with the five starters all playing at least 33 minutes. Only four bench players were used, and two played eight minutes or more. Freshman Tyler Foster, a usual part of the rotation, didn’t play and Dooley said afterward
that him and fellow freshman Tae Hardy have standards to meet if they want to see the court.
ECU gets a week off before it heads to Houston next Wednesday to take on the Cougars in a game where the Pirates will have to play their best in order to try and steal another upset win.