Pirates claim first ever American victory

Published 11:37 am Thursday, January 15, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS TOP PERFORMER: B.J. Tyson leads his team up the court in a defensive-minded first half. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists off the bench.

TOP PERFORMER: B.J. Tyson leads his team up the court in a defensive-minded first half. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists off the bench.

GREENVILLE — On Wednesday in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, the Pirates picked up their first ever American Athletic Conference win, 66-61, at the expense of the Houston Cougars.

Much like East Carolina (8-9, 1-3 AAC), the winless in-conference Cougars (7-9, 0-5 AAC) have battled youth and inconsistency all season, but a constant has been the scoring of junior guard Jherrod Stiggers, who came in to the day averaging 17 points per game and four three-pointers per contest. ECU head coach Jeff Lebo and his team knew that if they could limit Stiggers’s chances, they had a good chance to win.

Cue ECU’s best individual defensive performance of the season.

Junior Terry Whisnant, who is normally known for his scoring (12.8 ppg.), guarded Stiggers in man defense for the majority of his team-leading 34 minutes. Whisnant held Stiggers to just five points on 2-for-15 shooting (0-for-5 behind the arc).

“[Whisnant] knows how to defend,” said Lebo after the game. “He can sniff out actions; he was tougher tonight getting through screens, he was quick to Stiggers, he challenged shots and he’s quick and can move. I thought he was terrific defensively. It may not show up in the stat sheet but I thought he was a big difference in the game.”

Whisnant led the unit in what was an outstanding overall team defensive effort.

The Pirates held the Cougars to just 33.9 percent shooting (6-for-21 from three-point range). And it was the ECU defense that set up scoring on the offensive end, which was hard to come by in the defensive struggle.

ECU scored 15 points off 13 turnovers and while eight points on the fast break may not seem like many, Houston put up an abysmal zero in that category.

“In order to get wins, it starts on the defensive end,” said Whisnant. “In the first half, we started out sloppy (on offense), but our defense got us the lead in the first half and we just kept grinding with our defense and came up with the win.”

With so much focus devoted one end, someone had to step up production on offense. Guard B.J. Tyson, who is leading the Pirates at 13.5 points per game, did just that. His 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting added just enough for ECU to hang on. Tyson also led the Pirates in rebounding with seven on the way to a 39-37 team advantage in that category.

“We get wins when we out-rebound the other team,” said Tyson. “In all the wins that we have, we out-rebounded the other team. Our coaches always [preach] being tough on defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding and crashing. I think we did that tonight.”

After a very slow start for both teams, the Pirates grabbed the lead at the 11:27 mark of the first half (7-6) and didn’t let go. They would eventually stretch the margin to a 13-point lead with 14:52 left in the second half. Houston would cut the deficit to just one point multiple times from there, but the Pirates never gave up the lead.

Clutch free throws for ECU down the stretch eventually iced the game.

“A big win for our kids,” said Lebo. “There was a lot of relief on the faces of the guys in [the locker room]. Over the last five minutes of the game, it was all about who had the confidence to make the big plays — the winning plays and luckily we came out on top. We made some key plays and key shots coming down the stretch.”

The Pirates will look to continue their momentum on Saturday in Dallas against a very tough Southern Methodist squad (13-4, 4-1 AAC), one coming off an upset win over Temple. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.