Pirates top South Florida

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, February 21, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS TOP PERFORMER: Guard B.J. Tyson drives the lane in a win over South Florida on Saturday. He finished with 19 points.

TOP PERFORMER: Guard B.J. Tyson drives the lane in a win over South Florida on Saturday. He finished with 19 points.

GREENVILLE — As hapless as the Pirates have been on the road, they’ve almost made up for it with their play at Minges Coliseum. Saturday’s 73-60 win over South Florida earned head coach Jeff Lebo’s East Carolina team its fourth-consecutive home conference victory.

The Pirates (12-15, 5-9 American Athletic Conference) coasted for most of the second half after taking a 35-25 lead into the locker room. They hit some lulls after stretching their second half lead to as many as 22 and the Bulls’ (8-20, 2-13 AAC) Corey Allen Jr. went off for 25 points after the break. But consistent shooting from ECU forward Caleb White (19 points, 5-for-6 threes) and aggressive slashing freshman guard B.J. Tyson (19 points, 11-14 free throws) helped weather every small storm, as the closest USF would get in the second half was 55-43 with 5:07 left.

“We did a nice job of extending the lead in the second half,” said Lebo. “It was an odd game; there was a lot of fouls and a lot of weird things, but we shot very well to finish out the game from the foul line. 28-for-36 is great work.”

The two teams combined for 58 free throws. In that category ECU got the better of the Bulls, who shot 12-22 at the line.

“We tried to get to the rims and get some easy ones,” said White. “Our coach talked about that after the Tulsa game (L 69-58) — not relying on the jump shot too much and trying to get layups and free throws. I’d say it was a focal point.”

Forward Marshall Guilmette bounced back from a rough stretch with his best game in weeks. The sophomore went for 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block. Lebo mentioned that the biggest leap from Conference USA to the American is the quality, length and depth of the big men, so ECU will need more performances like that from Guilmette, who has a pretty refined offensive game.

“I’ve been trying my hardest in practice to bring something which I haven’t been able to bring — rebounding and defense,” said Guilmette. “To get consistent minutes, I know I need to do that and I’ve been trying to do it every day.”

ECU was coming off losses at conference-elites Tulsa and Temple that brought their road record to 0-10. But a, surprising to some, 5-2 home record in the American has the Pirates mixing it up in the middle of the conference standings.

“We’re not going to win the league — we know that,” said Lebo. “But the league is kind of split at the top and the bottom. My motivating force for (our team) is to maybe try to get to the top of that second grouping. They’ve responded pretty well.”

Next up for the Pirates is the defending national champion UConn Huskies (14-11, 7-6 AAC) in what is sure to be a formidable home environment at Minges Coliseum.