Pirates top Huskies on senior night

Published 4:34 pm Thursday, March 2, 2017

GREENVILLE — Caleb White’s memorable East Carolina career came to a storybook ending Wednesday night as the Pirates pulled off a 66-62 victory over Connecticut on senior night, thanks in large part to an inspired performance by the senior himself.

In stark contrast to the narrative that’s haunted the Pirates all season, the stars were stars. Aggressive play led to open shots and free throws. Ultimately, though, it was White’s 28 points that paved the way for the bittersweet goodbye to Minges Coliseum, where the senior went from a wide-eyed freshman to the program’s fourth all-time leading scorer.

“It didn’t hit me yet,” White, who finished 7-of-13 from beyond the arc, said after the game, just minutes removed from an emotional embrace with his teammates. “I was expecting it to. I thought I was going to cry in that moment. Just thinking about that being the last time, I just couldn’t believe it. It hasn’t all hit me though.”

White, who scored a team-high 20 points in last Saturday’s game against Tulsa, started Senior Night in a fashion contrary to how he finished. Two badly missed 3s by the senior in the game’s opening minutes made it look like the Pirates were on their way to another disappointing loss.

But staunch defense, which has led the way all season, held the Huskies in check. Despite trailing for over 22 minutes, a second-half surge from the Pirates proved crucial.

“Our guys are resilient, it starts with that,” said acting head coach Michael Perry. “They’ve got a mindset that they may bend but they’re not going to break. And they’re going to stay with the game plan and that’s what we kept reminding them.”

Down by four heading into halftime, White’s 18 points led all players by a large margin, but it was a cast of other characters that pulled the Pirates ahead in the second half and sealed the victory down the stretch.

Sophomore Kentrell Barkley did his part to send the team’s three seniors — White, Andre Washington and Michel Nzege — off with a victory. He erupted in the second half, finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds, including a crucial and-1 late in the game.

However, the pesky Huskies got a crucial 3 from star Rodney Purvis and tied the game at 62 with 1:38 left to play.

“I remember gathering them together and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before,’” Perry said. “And we’ve won most of them. We’re able to say that because we’ve been successful recently. We’ve learned from a lot of different adversity.”

Perhaps juxtaposed to the theme of the night, it was key free throws down the stretch from freshmen Jeremy Sheppard and Elijah Hughes that iced the game preserved the 66-62 win.

The careers of White, Washington and Nzege aren’t quite over yet. The Pirates still have a road game looming against Houston Sunday and then the American Athletic Conference tournament. Still, though, the significance of picking up a win in their final home game was memorable for the senior trio.

“It was the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Barkley said. “I’m glad Caleb played a hell of a game tonight. And (Nzege), I appreciate you bro.”