By Tony Castleberry
Feb 27, 2014
East Carolina men’s basketball coach Jeff Lebo called it “a storybook way to go out.” ECU senior guard Akeem Richmond said it “couldn’t have gone any better than how it went.”
The coach and the player were both referring to Richmond’s final home game in a Pirate uniform on Thursday and the ECU sharpshooter made it a Senior Night to remember. Richmond hit eight 3-pointers, poured in a game-high 27 points and thrilled the Minges Coliseum faithful one last time in East Carolina’s 75-68 victory over Charlotte.
It was the third consecutive victory for ECU (16-13, 5-9 Conference USA) and its first win over the 49ers (14-13, 5-9) since Dec. 1, 2010.
“I’m happy that we went out with a bang,” said Richmond, who moved into 14th place on the NCAA’s all-time 3-pointers made list with 394 and added to the school single-season and career milestones he has already achieved. “They just really punked us last year (in a 76-64 Pirate loss in Charlotte). They were really physical with us last year so I told my guys we weren’t backing down this year. … If (the Niners) wanted to be physical, we could do the same thing and that’s really what won us the ballgame.”
Charlotte never led, but Willie Clayton’s bucket with 8 minutes, 44 seconds left in the second half tied the score for the first time since tip-off, 50-50. The 49ers tied it two more times in the next couple of minutes and trailed by just one — 59-58 — at the 5:23 mark before the Pirates went on a 9-2 spurt capped by a pair of Richmond free throws that made it 68-60 ECU with 2:53 remaining.
The Niners got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Pirate point guard Antonio Robinson tied his career high with 15 points, including some key free throws down the stretch, and freshman Caleb White added 14 points for ECU, which could only use junior starting guard Paris Roberts-Campbell sparingly because of a hamstring problem.
“I’m awfully proud of this group,” said Lebo, who helped honor seniors Richmond, Petar Torlak and Erin Straughn before the game. “They continue to really defy odds. Paris played 24 minutes, but he couldn’t really move out there. … I’m really happy for the group. They’ve been really unbelievable, surprising, and to find a way to win against (Charlotte), an in-state team, a big game for us, was amazing.”
Led by Richmond’s hot hand, East Carolina jumped out to a 21-2 lead with 10:21 left in the first half, but the 49ers went on a 22-11 run from that point to make it 32-24 at halftime. Six of the Pirates’ first eight baskets came from 3-point range and they made eight — five from Richmond — from long range in the first 20 minutes.
Pierria Henry scored a team-high 20 points for Charlotte and was charged with guarding Richmond for most of the second half, a task that Niners coach Alan Major admitted is difficult.
“The tough thing about him is he shoots the ones that you don’t think he’s going to shoot,” Major said of Richmond. “Greenville city limits is his shooting range. … He’s what you would call a specialist, to the highest degree.”