Uncasville, Conn. – East Carolina lost to SMU, 60-54, in the first round of the American Athletic Conference inside Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night. The Pirates conclude their season 11-19 overall while SMU advances to play No. 3 seed USF Saturday at 8 p.m.
Kristen Gaffney led all scorers with 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and 10 free throws on 13 attempts. Alicia Froling paced the
Mustangs with 23 points and 12 rebounds in the only double-double performance of the game.
The Pirates led 33-30 at halftime backed by a deep three-pointer from Antoinette Bannister but SMU pulled ahead in the third quarter and led the rest of the way.
Khadidja Toure was second on the Pirates’ squad in scoring with nine points while Bre McDonald and Bannister chipped in six points each. SMU edged ECU 38-31 in rebounds but it was the Pirates who won the turnover battle forcing 23 while committing 18. In addition, East Carolina held SMU scoreless from three-point range (0-for-8).
The Purple and Gold is now 2-3 all-time in the American Athletic Conference Tournament since joining the league in the 2014-15 season.
Head Coach Heather Macy
“It was a really tough season and a really tough finish to the year. I am really proud of the way the kids fought, I thought that their effort was incredible and they continued to sustain the defensive effort tonight despite of the shooting percentage. I think that the growth is definitely there in that aspect.”
On Tonight’s Matchup Was Similar to the Regular Season One:
“Well obviously they are bigger than us in every position on the floor and it was going to be really important how we defended in the post. We established Gaff and she did an incredible job in the paint and getting to the free throw line and putting them in foul trouble. We just didn’t come up with a lot of 50/50 balls down the stretch.”
Kristen Gaffney on Coach Macy’s Message before the Game:
“We played them early in the conference season so they evolved and we evolved since then. We knew going in it would be a back-and-fourth game from the start so we really tried to prepare for that and prepare for their height. I think we did a very good job for the most part and it was a tight game until the last 30 seconds.”
Gaffney on the Locker Room Environment at Halftime:
“She asked us ‘how do you want to finish your season’. I mean, we were up three at half and Antoinette [Bannister] gave us the momentum going into the half but I thought we come out a little flat after that but we found our way back and just couldn’t seal the deal in the end.”
Macy on the Second Half Play:
“When we didn’t get high percentage scores I think its deflating and it can be really tough and you see our shooting percentage just plummet relative to the and second quarter. We had fire in us tonight and that’s what I asked of them at halftime. I’m sad to see the seniors’ careers end this way but I am thankful for what they have done for our program.”
Both teams got off to a slow start with SMU leading by two, 6-4, at the media timeout five minutes into play. A three-point shot by Justice Gee at 4:32 made it a one-point game after ECU was down 8-4. The Mustangs held on to lead 17-13 at the end of the quarter backed by a seven-point quarter by Alicia Froling. The Mustangs shot 33.3 percent from the field and held East Carolina to 23.5 percent. Gaffney paced the Purple and Gold with six points while Gee added five points.
A trey by Antoinette Bannister to start the second quarter gave East Carolina spark. Khadidja Toure sank the Purple and Gold’s second three-pointer of the quarter to give ECU its first lead of the game, 19-17, with 8:53 on the clock. East Carolina drew back-to-back charges which fueled a late-quarter rally by the Pirates. Toure’s jumper at 4:06 gave ECU its largest lead to that point, 28-23, but SMU would not go away tying the game 30-all with a 7-2 run. Bannister’s deep three-pointer as the final seconds ticked sent East Carolina into the locker room with a 33-30 lead at halftime. Gaffney led the Pirates with 12 points in the first half when she scored six of ECU’s 20 points in the second frame.
SMU used a 10-2 run, with eight straight points to lead 40-36 by midway through the third quarter. The Mustangs took their largest lead of eight, 44-36, with 3:50 to go. A layup by Bre McDonald made it a three-point game, 46-43, a score the two took into the break. SMU outscored East Carolina 18-12 in the fourth quarter while shooting 66.7 percent (8-of-12) in its highest scoring quarter. Froling and Kiara Perry each scored eight points for the Mustangs while East Carolina was led by Gaffney who had six points and was four-for-five at the charity stripe.
Both teams had their lowest scoring quarter in the fourth frame with SMU edging East Carolina 12-9. After a slow start, the Pirates pulled the game within two points when Kristen Gaffney made a layup making the scoreboard read 50-48 in favor of the Mustangs. It was the Pirates’ graduate student once again putting the Purple and Gold in reach with a basket in the paint for a 54-52 SMU lead with 2:45 to play in regulation. Macy called for final timeout with 33.5 to go and Pirates’ possession as ECU trailed 57-54 but a costly turnover put the ball back in the hands of SMU. The Mustangs were consistent at the free throw line down the stretch and held on for a 60-54 win.
East Carolina concludes its season 11-19 overall. The Pirates bid farewell to six seniors including four of the Pirates’ five leading scorers in Gaffney, McDonald, Toure and Bannister.