The largest Minges Coliseum crowd of the season turned out Thursday night entertaining hopes of ECU pulling off a shocker. What the 5,539 fans and an ESPN2 audience got was an impressive display by the nation’s fifth-ranked team.
American Athletic Conference newcomer Wichita State absorbed the Pirates’ best shot for 10 minutes then relied on their superior depth and talent to steamroll to a 95-60 win. The home loss was ECU’s most lopsided since a 95-54 defeat at the hand of Wake Forest on Dec. 28, 2008, and marked the 29th consecutive loss against a ranked opponent.
The Shockers (14-2, 4-0) and Memphis in 2006 are the highest-ranked opponents to visit Greenville.
“For us we’ve seen the elite of the elite in this league, and it’s a learning experience for our guys,” interim ECU head coach Michael Perry said. “There’s a lot to take away from this experience. You saw why they’re the fifth-best team in the country right now. They’ve got a lot of strengths, not a lot of weaknesses, they play well together, they play hard. There is a lot to learn just from playing a team like this.”
The Pirates tapped into the energy from the upset-minded home crowd to build a five-point lead in the first eight minutes, getting a steal and dunk by Kentrell Barkley and a three-pointer by Shawn Williams for a 14-9 lead.
Williams started in place of Isaac Fleming at point guard and scored five points in 19 minutes on 2-of-8 shooting. Fleming also scored five points, hitting just 2 of 10 shots, 1 of 3 free throws and committing four turnovers. The two point guards were a combined 1 of 9 from three-point range.
The Shockers struggled early, hitting just three of their first 12 shots before a blazing finish to wind up at 59.4 percent (38 of 64) for the game.
“The crowd was tremendous, and I thought that really jump-started us, particularly from a defensive standpoint,” Perry said. “I thought our defense was excellent to start the game, and the guys were very engaged and very intense, and they fed off the energy of the crowd.
“One of the things that we certainly saw is that we can play with them for 10 minutes or 11 or whatever it was, but then the other 30 minutes you’ve got to figure it out. That’s where they’re really good, and that’s where we’ve got to learn that we’ve got to be able to sustain that level of play for longer periods of time.”
Wichita State simply didn’t allow that to happen, hounding the Pirates with full-court pressure and taking full advantage of a deep bench. Head coach Greg Marshall used all 15 of his players, and 12 of them scored. Only two played 20 minutes or more. Perry used nine players from a depleted roster, and four played at least 31 minutes.
“They started out great, and we just decided that we were going to make this a tons-of-possessions game with our press and try to wear them down,” Marshall said. “Toward the end of the first half I think that’s what we were able to do.
“… They just have more guys not dressed than they do dressed, and that’s very difficult. We have more yellow uniforms than I can count.”
A 15-0 run after ECU grabbed its five-point lead put the Shockers up 24-14 and in command. A 19-5 advantage in the final 5:50 of the half extended the lead to 45-23.
After missing 12 of their first 18 shots, the Shockers finished 17 of 34 for 50 percent then buried the Pirates in the second half by draining seven of their first eight shots and shooting 70 percent (21 of 30) in the final 20 minutes.
Wichita State dominated in every area. After being outrebounded 8-7 early, the Shockers finished with a 40-26 advantage. They outscored ECU 50-30 in the paint, and their bench produced a 51-14 advantage.
Wichita State also set a record for an ECU in Minges with 32 assists — nine more than ECU’s total number of field goals (23).
“That’s a big-time number,” Marshall said. “We had 28 recently in game, but 32 on 38 (shots). It may mean that we’re not very good one-on-one players, but more importantly I think it means we’re very, very unselfish.\
“When you can have 32 assists and 11 turnovers as a team, almost three to one, that’s pretty special. That’s what we strive to do. It’s all about the team, it’s all about we. It’s a cliche I know, but there’s very little individual play for us. We like to share the basketball and turn a good shot into a great shot.”
Sophomore guard Landry Shamet turned in a double-double with 11 points and 11 assists. Senior center Rauno Nurger scored 14 points in just 15 minutes. Shaquille Morris, a 6-8, 279-pound senior, and junior Markis McDuffie added 12 points each.
Senior B.J. Tyson led ECU with 16 points but made just 6 of 16 shots. Barkley finished with 14, and freshman Dimitri Spasojevic had 10. Justice Obasohan, who had scored just four points in his career, contributed nine points and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
ECU (7-9, 1-4) plays the second of three straight home games at 2 p.m., hosting a Houston team that hit 18 three-pointers in a 104-71 win over Tulsa on Thursday.