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ECU men's basketball team falls to Charlotte

By By RYAN ROCKWELL, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE -- After recent sub-par performances, the East Carolina men's basketball team played good enough and hard enough to win in the eyes of their coach, Bill Herrion. However, led by Curtis Nash's 19 second half points, Charlotte pulled out a 71-66 victory.
The Pirates (12-12, 3-10) have looked less than their best over the last month and a half after raising eyebrows around the league with a 10-2 start. In their last effort, a 14-point loss at home to DePaul, Herrion questioned the team's character.
Saturday, ECU outshot and outrebounded the 49ers. However, Nash and leading scorer Demon Brown answered every Pirate run with perimeter excellence. Nash, a senior, who averages 8.3 points, had 21 points and six assists, while Brown, a junior, chipped in 20 points (6-of-13 from downtown).
The Pirates shot 45.8 percent from the floor in the first half and trailed 30-28 at the break. The game's first 20 minutes were nip and tuck as ECU tied Charlotte on six occasions.
Past the midway point of the half, Brown took over, scoring eight consecutive points to give the 49ers a 25-17 lead.
However, ECU responded in a big way with a 10-1 run. Center Gabriel Mikulas began the run for the Pirates, hitting a free-throw-line jumper with 4:57. It was ECU's first basket in close to three and a half minutes.
Then, freshman guard Belton Rivers drilled a three after a Charlotte free throw. Swingman Derrick Wiley scored three straight points for the Pirates and power forward Erroyl Bing capped the run with a blockout and put back under the rim. Then, the junior made one of two free throws, giving the Pirates a two-point lead with 1:16 to go.
Charlotte (11-13, 6-6) finished the half on a positive note as forward Curtis Withers scored four of his six first-half points in the final minute. Withers hit a baseline jumper and then put the 49ers ahead going into the locker rooms, banking a free-throw line jumper.
The second half was nothing short of brilliant basketball, as both teams slugged it out the final 20 minutes, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot.
Erroyl Bing drilled a trey from the top of the key with 18:35 left, pumping his fist as he galloped down the court.
Nash scored Charlotte's first 10 points of the second half and answered Bing's triple with back to back hoops. Then Nash answered a Travis Holcomb-Faye three-pointer with one of his own. Belton Rivers (15 points, 4-of-8 beyond the arc) came right back with a pull-up trey and tied the game at 37.
Wiley gave his team a 39-37 lead on two free throws with 15:17 to go, but Nash would have none of it, scorching the nets with a deep three, then letting Rivers hear about it.
Rivers and Nash would battle all night, and the talented freshman buried a trey in Nash's eye on the next trip down.
This time, Demon Brown answered, hitting his fourth trey of the night. The game continued in this manner as Rivers tied the game at 48 with a breakaway layup, following a Bing defensive rebound and hit-ahead pass. Bing finished with 13 boards and 12 points.
However, Charlotte slowly gained the advantage and pushed their lead to nine on consecutive three-point plays by Brown, who banked his trey from the wing. Withers scored and was fouled near the rim. With 6:58 to go, ECU trailed 63-54, but the game was far from over.
Wiley finished an offensive rebound on a missed free throw by Bing, and then Bing hit a jumper and made both of his foul shots to make the score 63-60 with 4:49 to play.
The Pirates cut the lead to two with 1:39 to go, as Rivers made 1-of-2 at the line (65-63).
Moments later, the ECU faithful thought the game was tied as Derrick Wiley (15 points, six rebounds) slashed into the paint, hung and made the short jumper. Boos filled the arena as Wiley was called for traveling.
Withers, who scored eight of his 14 points in the second half, was fouled and went to the line with 33.3 seconds to go and hit both shots. Bing put a forearm in Withers' back and appeared to have good position, but was called for his fifth personal foul. Trailing 67-63, the Pirates kept the pressure on as Mikulas drained a short jumper with 22 seconds.
But it just wasn't ECU's night. Nash calmly made both his foul shots with 18.7 as Holcomb-Faye's night (11 points) was also done after committing the personal.
Luke MacKay made a last gasp three attempt, which rimmed out. A skirmish for the ball gave the Pirates the alternating possession with 5.2 seconds to play. MacKay fed Moussa Badiane, who played just 12 minutes with foul trouble, on the inbounds and he drew the foul and made 1-of-2 with 3.6 seconds.
Then, Charlotte's Chris Sager was fouled and made 2-of-2 at the foul stripe for the final margin.
The officiating was a topic of conversation after the game and Bing felt the outcome was "a hard one to swallow."
Herrion reluctantly commented on the officiating after the game.
Despite questionable calls by the officials, the Pirates, losers of their last three, played arguably one of their best games of the season.
"Tonight, I think we showed that we're still playing hard and we've still got some fight in us," said Bing. "But, it hurts to go down like that. I can't go down like that. Tonight we played hard for about 40 minutes and everybody saw what happened at the end. But we've got two tough games on the road against Cincinnati and Louisville and we're going to go out there and fight and scratch and claw like we've still got nothing to lose and try to fight our way into the conference tournament."
ECU is 0-6 on the road in Conference-USA this year and needs at least one win in their last three games to make the C-USA Tournament.
The Pirates travel to Cincinnati on Feb. 26 and to Louisville on March 1, before returning to William's Arena for their final regular-season game against Saint Louis on March 8 at 11 a.m.