Thursday, April 4, 2013
As the basketball left Akeem Richmond’s hand on Tuesday night, the whole of Greenvile held its breath some 2,000 miles away, hoping that the graceful arc would find its way through the hoop. Though the buzzer-beating 3-pointer silenced the capacity crowd at the Dee Evans Center in Ogden, Utah, it unleashed a wave of elation that could be heard across the Pirate nation.
East Carolina University first put forth a men’s basketball team in 1931, marking the school’s initial foray into intercollegiate athletics, but had enjoyed precious little success in the years that followed. Undaunted, the young men of this squad proved that hard work and determination could overcome decades of history and enable them to bring home the school’s first postseason championship.
When the year began, Head Coach Jeff Lebo knew his team would boast a healthy mix of veteran experience and raw talent. The Pirates lost only two seniors from a squad that finished 15-16 a year earlier and some predicted that the rising upperclassmen could enable the squad to compete well within Conference USA. East Carolina had never won 20 games in a season, but the feat for once seemed possible.
Led by Maurice Kemp — the first player in school history selected to the first-team all-conference team — and his fellow senior Miguel Paul and junior forward Robert Sampson, the Pirates opened the season on a tear, winning their first five games and seven of their first nine. East Carolina even put a scare into five-time NCAA champion North Carolina in an early-season game in Chapel Hill.
In conference, the Pirates set a school record for wins with a 9-7 mark, earning the team a No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. Though East Carolina lost in the quarterfinals, their season’s resume earned it a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. While not the pedigree of the NCAA or NIT events, the CIT allowed the Pirates to host four games before Tuesday’s final against Weber State.
That back-and-forth affair seemed lost in the closing minutes before a furious comeback set the stage for Richardson’s theatrics. His winning shot will live in university lore, forever remembered by the banner in the Minges Coliseum rafters that will surely be raised next year. Though perpetually in the shadow of other in-state basketball programs, East Carolina did its fans proud with a season for the ages in which the only regret is that the thrill ride finally had to end.
via The Daily Reflector.