The East Carolina University Pirates opened up American Athletic Conference play Wednesday night after finishing its non-conference schedule at 7-5. The AAC opener went about as expected, with ECU being blown out by SMU 82-54.
It’s as expected considering ECU lost both games against SMU last season by big margins, 86-61 and 77-58. It’s as expected for its league play debut as ECU lost its AAC opener last season to Tulsa 79-53 after winning its last four out of five games to end non-conference
The Pirates hung tough with the Mustangs for most of the first half, holding a lead at 18-15 well into the game. The Mustangs would inevitably pull away, going on a 20-7 run to go into halftime with a 35-25 lead. Still manageable for the Pirates, except SMU was
only getting started.
SMU opened the second half on a huge 15-1 run, making 7-of-13 from the field while holding the Pirates to 1-of-13 to start the half. SMU would build its lead to as much as 30 before winning by 28. The run to start the second half was shocking enough it prompted
ECU head coach Joe Dooley to tell reporters afterward “That’s about an interesting a start to the second half as I’ve ever seen.”
It’s the tough reality that is for ECU in the AAC, shown by the fact ECU hasn’t defeated SMU since the two teams entered the American. The talent difference always catches up. Dooley is just in his first year and he, along with his staff, has yet to make a full
impact with recruiting talent.
One of the Pirates’ more promising talents, freshman big man Jayden Gardner, used a strong second half to post 16 points and seven rebounds but struggled with five turnovers. Fellow freshman Tyler Foster posted 11 points to go along, but sophomore guard Shawn
Williams, the reigning AAC freshman-of-the-year, struggled. Williams scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and just 1-for-6 from three. Williams is the Pirates only prominent three shooter and when he has an off game, winning becomes an even more difficult.
It won’t get any easier for the Pirates, who turn around and go back home for a matchup with reigning AAC champion Cincinnati Bearcats. That game, taking place Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip-off, will likely be another rough one for ECU, as most AAC games will be
in Dooley’s first season attempting to turn around the basketball program.