ORLANDO, Fla. – East Carolina forward Michael Zangari pulled off his Pirates uniform for the final time Thursday afternoon as his college team crashed out at the first hurdle of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) basketball championship playoffs.
The senior’s 14 points and 10 rebounds were recorded in vain as South Florida triumphed 71-66 at the Amway Centre, sending the ninth seeded Bulls against tournament favourites Temple Friday at noon.
“This is not how I saw this ending,” said the 22-year-old in the aftermath of the defeat. “I didn’t want it to end here.”
The Pennsylvania native pointed to offensive difficulties being at the heart of a loss bringing his college basketball career to an end.
“We struggled to score on (South Florida) both times we played them this year,” Zangari said. “We didn’t have Caleb (White) tonight, one the best players on the team. It’s hard to play without that, especially against a team like that who’s good defensively.”
The communications major said he wasn’t overawed by the occasion.
“I wouldn’t really say I was nervous. I just wanted to give everything I had, just leave it all out there. It stings now but I did everything I could today.”
Zangari has played for four years in East Carolina and the early loss left him emotional.
“I had to get out of the arena, I didn’t want to be crying out there. Definitely hurts,” said the 6-foot-9 forward, who went five-for-10 from the field and four-for-six at the free throw line.
“This group of guys are some of my best friends, who I am going to miss. Not being in the locker room is going to be the hardest thing – not seeing these guys every day.”
Pirates coach Jeff Lebo said Zangari made tremendous contributions this year but acknowledged how tough it is for players to move on.
“It’s always difficult, it’s always tough, and not a whole lot you can say as a coach,” Lebo said. “To know they are going to step into another area of their life and that this group won’t be together again.”
Zangari said he will leave with good memories of his time at East Carolina and despite the disappointing ending, is optimistic about the direction of the team.
“They’ve got a lot of potential and have a nice nucleus to build around so I think they’ve definitely got a bright future.”
With files from Mark Staniusz