GREENVILLE —The Pirates snapped a three-game losing streak with one of their best performances of the year as they benefited from a balanced offensive attack and 35 free throws to throw dirt on a Miners team that drew five technical fouls and had two coaches ejected in their 86-73 loss to East Carolina on Wednesday.
The Pirates’ stunner over UTEP (20-7, 8-4), who came into the game tied for second in Conference USA, lifts ECU’s conference record to 6-7. The six C-USA wins is the most in Pirates’ history.
“I am awfully proud of our group,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “When you play a good (UTEP team) that starts five seniors and they are coming off a loss (on Monday to UCF) you know you are going to get a good shot.”
The Pirates where able to hand the Miners their second straight loss for the first time all year thanks to revitalized effort from ECU forward Jamar Abrams who busted out of his slump to score a game-high 25 points. The 6-7 senior made five of his seven three-point attempts and shot 8-11 from the floor.
“I thought Jamar Abrams was absolutely dynamite,” Lebo said. “When Jamar is shooting it, it just opens things up for us offensively so much.”
Abrams and senior guard Jontae Sherrod, who poured in 21 points, gave ECU much-needed firepower from the perimeter which allowed for C/F Darrius Morrow to create havoc in the paint. Morrow used an array of post moves to rack up 19 points and finished the game with nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
The Pirates also had a huge advantage on the free throw line thanks to UTEP’s five second-half technicals, four of which were called in the first two minutes of the half. ECU was in the double-bonus stage by the 15:52 mark and went on to make 35 of its 45 free throw attempts. The team’s 35 made free throws are the most since the team hit 32 against Memphis in 2004.
Defensively, the Pirates did a tremendous job on UTEP’s star guard tandem of Randy Culpepper and Julyan Stone.
Culpepper, who is C-USA’s third-leading scorer with a 19.5 points per game average, was held to only three points in the first half. Culpepper ended the game with 22, but ECU kept him from taking over the game.
The Pirates also clamped down on the Miners star 6-foot-7-inch point guard Stone. With 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Stone had a solid game, but was kept from overpowering the Pirates.
The two teams fought neck-and-neck in the first half, but ECU took a 29-27 lead going into the break thanks to a late Abrams three-pointer.
The second half is when all the madness started. At the 19:18 mark, with his team trailing 31-27, UTEP coach Tim Floyd was issued a warning for leaving the coach’s box. After some brief words with the officials Floyd had turned his back and walked back to his bench when the officials blew their whistle again and hit Floyd with a technical foul which sent him into a rage.
Less than a minute later Floyd was still hot under the collar, and while Culpepper was at the free throw line, the demonstrative Miners’ coach was called for his second technical of the game and was ejected. The fiery Floyd stormed towards one official who would not look back at Floyd and was being protected by the other officials. The heated affair appeared to come to an end when security escorted Floyd out of the gymnasium, however, Floyd was shortly joined by assistant coach Phil Johnson who was nailed with two quick technicals and was ejected.
“I was given a warning for having my foot out of the coach’s box,” Floyd said. “My behavior this year has been pretty darn good. I haven’t gotten a technical all year long. So I scurried back to the bench and the next thing I knew I got a technical and I didn’t know why I got it. I would still like to know. Maybe you all could ask them a question cause I would like to know.
“I can’t obviously comment on the officiating, but I was not upset with the officials at that point, I was coaching my team … I guess I probably just reacted to that first technical and not understanding why I got it. I probably earned the second one.”