Wednesday night’s matchup at Minges Coliseum featured Conference USA’s two highest-scoring teams, and it did not disappoint. Just as they did against UCF last Saturday, the Pirates fell behind by double-figures in the second half and had to rally to tie the game at 76-76 with 3:50 remaining.
From that point on, the Pirates took control, in front of 5,087 screaming fans, and closed the game on a 13-2 run to defeat the Houston Cougars 89-78.
“We’re used to it,” said Akeem Richmond. “It’s all about staying poised and not panicking.”
Maurice Kemp led the charge for ECU (11-5, 2-1 C-USA) – shooting 65 percent from the field (13-20) for a career-high 30 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.
After missing its first thirteen shots from beyond the arc, the Pirates caught fire from deep in the second half; converting 8-15. Richmond had four triples and scored all of his 14 points in the second half, coming off the bench.
“I just came in and shot the ball with a lot of confidence,” said Richmond. “(Head coach Jeff Lebo) likes it when I’m making it. When I’m missing, (it’s a) different story.”
Lebo added “He’s not Vinnie Johnson, but he can get going. That’s what he does.”
Miguel Paul struggled out of the gate, only scoring 4 points in the first half, but managed to score crucial baskets down the stretch and finished with 16 points and 8 assists.
Houston (12-4, 1-2 C-USA) has a plethora of young talent on its roster—led by freshman Daniel House, who had a team-high 22 points on 8-13 shooting from the field. Sophomore TaShawn Thomas followed suit with 18 points and collected 8 rebounds.
The Cougars shot 50 percent in the first half (15-30) and led 36-30 going into the locker room.
Despite having multiple scoring threats and scoring 76 points, the Cougars seemed shell-shocked in the second half and couldn’t shut the door on the Pirates. The visitors saw their lead diminish when Richmond buried a trey that gave ECU its first lead, 73-71 with 5:45 remaining, since scoring the first basket in the game’s opening minute.
“(ECU) just killed us in the second half,” said Cougars head coach James Dickey. “If you give up 59 points (in the second half), you are not going to beat anybody. You certainly have to give (ECU) a lot of credit. I thought they were terrific.”
Ty Armstrong started slowly but still churned out some key buckets when his team needed it. In the game’s first three minutes, Armstrong was 1-6 shooting from the field; but hit his last 3 shot to finish with 9 points, while grabbing 12 boards.
Houston’s Leone Young had 14 points and a team-high 9 rebounds off the bench and Joseph Young added 15 points.
After alternating wins and losses in its last ten games, ECU has captured back to back wins for the first time since Nov. 26.The Pirates are now 10-1 on their home floor at Minges Coliseum this season.
"It was quite a crowd. They were very vocal tonight," said Lebo. "We appreciate that. Our kids appreciate that. They have been a factor in some of the wins we've had here."
The Pirates will tip-off a two game road trip Saturday in Huntington against the Marshall Thundering Herd (8-9, 1-1 C-USA).
ECU’s next game at Minges Coliseum will be Jan. 26 when they play host to the UTEP Miners (9-7, 2-1 C-USA).