Dylan Johnson/ESPN Greenville
The East Carolina University Pirates are returning back to Greenville after a 0-2 road trip that saw two close losses to better teams, first 78-72 to Memphis on Thursday night and 76-65 to UCF on Sunday.
There was promise for the Pirates on this road trip after its 73-71 upset win over Cincinnati at home, but ECU has yet to figure out its road struggles completely. ECU is now 0-6 on the road this season, compared with an 8-2 home mark, finding itself at 8-8 coming
Despite it not being improved road results in terms of wins, it was still improved play nonetheless. ECU was on the verge of a second consecutive upset win against Memphis, leading the Tigers for more than 27 minutes of the game. ECU led by double digits and by four
at halftime, before a second-half charge pulled Memphis to a 65-65 tie. From there, Memphis finished with a 13-7 run to close the game.
KJ Davis followed up his coming-out party against Cincinnati with a 12 points 12 rebounds double-double performance and Seth LeDay posted a double-double of his own with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
ECU played a strong second half against UCF, the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, but could not overcome a 12-point halftime deficit against a superior team.
The road trip may have been without victories in the win column for the Pirates, but small victories were plentiful. The notion that first-year head coach Joe Dooley is turning the program around was strengthened: ECU’s third-ranked 3-point percentage defense
held the Knights squad, which tops the AAC in 3-point shooting, to 24 percent (6-of-24).
The biggest silver lining for the trip was the play of freshman Jayden Gardner. Gardner played solid against Memphis with 18 points but really had a historic game against the tall and long UCF Knights and 7’6 center Tacko Fall.
Gardner posted 35 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the first freshman in AAC history to score 35 points and the third 20-rebound game by any AAC player. Gardner was the first Pirate since 1966 to get 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game. His three games this season
with 30 or more points is three shy of the conference record for a freshman, which is six by Houston’s Rob Gray last season.
With Gardner, who is on his way to the AAC freshman-of-the-year, and reigning winner Shawn Williams, Dooley has a couple of program cornerstones to work with. If he continues to recruit a few more players of that caliber, it won’t be long before the program is
ECU gladly returns back to Minges Coliseum to play Temple Wednesday night at 7 p.m., hoping that the home fans can continue to help the home success it has seen this season.