East Carolina perimeter shooting not enough to top No. 20 Southern Methodist

Published 2:37 pm Friday, March 13, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. — East Carolina’s inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference came to an end Friday afternoon in the second round of the tournament — a 74-68 loss to the Southern Methodist Mustangs.

SMU, the top seed in the AAC Tournament, brought size and strength to the table in a matchup that should have exploited an undersized roster, but the Pirates scratched and clawed for 40 minutes, their lights-out and nearly unprecedented perimeter shooting keeping the No. 20-ranked team in the country from pulling away.

Thirty-four of ECU’s 51 field goal attempts were from three and the Pirates finished shooting 44 percent from behind the arch.

AAC Player-of-the-Year Nic Moore, a 5-9 redshirt junior, led all scorers with a quiet 20 points on 6-for-14 shooting, while forward Markus Kennedy tallied 15 points and six boards to lead the Mustang bigs.

The bulk of ECU’s offense production came from the hot hands of Terry Whisnant and Antonio Robinson, who both finished with 18 points and six rebounds apiece. Caleb White also chipped in with 14 points.

Robinson, Whisnant, White and even forward Marshall Guilmette avoided Kennedy in the paint by attacking from range, dropping seven there-pointers on eight attempts. Working the perimeter proved to be the status quo down the stretch for head coach Jeff Lebo and the Pirates’ zone defense frustrated the Mustangs early.

Despite being outrebounded, ECU led 19-9 early in the first half, but a couple of jumped passes and turnovers in the half court quickly erased the slight advantage.

SMU led ECU 37-32 at the half.

The Mustangs finished at half with all the momentum, but the Pirates exploded out of the gate with an 11-2 run, recapturing the lead.

Both teams continued to trade runs and whenever the Mustangs looked like they would finally pull away, it was Whisnant, Robinson or White knocking down a big three.

ECU had a 62-61 advantage with 6:10 remaining, but that would be the Pirates’ final lead of the ballgame. A handful of forced turnovers by SMU resulted in a final push that ECU would fail to overcome.

With the loss, the Pirates finish the season with a 14-20 record and eighth in the AAC standings.