Dylan Johnson / ESPN Greenville
East Carolina University’s game against the University of South Florida Saturday afternoon in Minges was a game of two halves. Freshman Jayden Gardner had a double-double but the Pirates had a terrible second half in its 77-57 loss, it’s fifth straight.
ECU (8-11, 1-6 AAC) jumped out to a 19-6 lead behind great play from Gardner. The first half would be dominated by runs however and USF (14-6, 4-4 AAC) would respond with an 11-0 run. Sophomore guard Shawn Williams made back-to-back 3-pointers that led an 8-0 run to respond but USF rolled off another 11-0 run, ended by another Williams’ 3-ball.
The final four minutes of the half would go back and forth until USF led 36-34 at half.
The second half was a blowout. USF outscored the Pirates 41-23 after the break and ECU head coach Joe Dooley said USF dominated every aspect of the game from the start of the second half.
The Pirates shot 50 percent in the first half but just above 29 percent in the second half and the Bulls shot well, going 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from three.
USF scored 17 points off of 16 ECU turnovers, while committing just six themselves. The Bulls also out-rebounded the Pirates 41-32, and dominated the offensive glass for off 16 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 second-chance points.
It’s especially disappointing for ECU, who has lost five straight and all momentum following the upset win over Cincinnati. Outside of the six-point loss at Memphis, every loss has been by double digits.
Gardner had his eighth double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds but 11 of those points came in the first half and the team struggles to generate offense when Gardner isn’t going.
Pirates return to action Thursday night against Tulane. The game tips off at 7 p.m. in Greenville. It’s a chance for the Pirates to solidify itself in the conference hierarchy.
The Pirates are not yet ready to consistently compete with the top teams in the conference, Houston (lost by 44, UCF (lost by 11, Cincinnati (despite the upset win, and Temple (lost by 11). They also lost to SMU, who is closer to the next tier down, by 28 but hung with Memphis at least.
ECU found itself closer against the Bulls, a team that has suddenly made the jump from bottom-dweller to middle-of-the-pack team as they have won their most games in a season since 2011-2012. ECU led most of the first half after leading just 13 seconds during last three losses.
ECU needs to beat last-place Tulane, who hasn’t won yet in AAC, in order to put itself above the bottom tier of teams in the conference.