ORLANDO, Fla. – East Carolina Pirates missed the outside shooting of starter Caleb White on Thursday, and it cost them.
Without the team’s best three-point shooter, ECU went down 71-66 to the University of South Florida Bulls in the first round of the AAC Championship at the Amway Center.
“We didn’t have Caleb tonight and he’s one of the best players on the team,” said forward Michael Zangari, in a quiet dressing room. “It’s hard to play without that.”
White, a junior, led the Pirates beyond the arc with 70 from long range. ECU as a team shot 20 per cent from deep on Thursday, well off of their season average where they connected on 34 per cent.
“He’s someone who helps us extend the defence and spread the offence because he can shoot the ball,” Zangari said. “Not having that definitely hurt.”
B.J. Tyson led East Carolina (12-19, 4-13) in scoring with 19 points on 8-23 shooting.
Big man Zangari had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, fellow senior Prince Williams struggled to find his shooting touch, going 2-10 from the field and finishing with nine points in his final collegiate game.
“Unfortunately I didn’t have a good performance,” said Williams. “I just have to bounce back and be ready for the future.”
The Bulls were led by forwards Chris Perry and Angel Nunez who both contributed 18 points off the bench in the win for University of South Florida (7-22, 4-14).
ECU had a tough time getting going to start the second half, shooting 0-6 from outside before Lance Tejada made a shot at the 6:56 mark of the second frame.
ECU was outmuscled by the larger USF squad in the first half. The Pirates were outrebounded 23-20 and had five shots blocked.
The Pirates shot 11-32 overall in the first half. Tejada led East Carolina in scoring with 9 points, going three-for-three from three-point land.
“When I hit the third shot I felt like I had some momentum going,” said Tejada. “Of course if you hit three threes you are going to be feeling it.”
Kentrell Barkley, the All-American freshman, was a non-factor, going one-for-four from the field and shot 25 per cent from the charity stripe.
East Carolina head coach, Jeff Lebo fell short of his 100th career win with the team.
With files from Ciaran Breen and Mark Staniusz