Greenville, N.C. – East Carolina outlasted Tulane in a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair on Wednesday night to accomplish a bit of history.
Miguel Paul finished with 13 points and 11 assists against Tulane.
The Pirates defeated the Green Wave in a shootout, 88-85, to clinch a first-round bye in next week’s Conference USA tournament, becoming the first ECU men’s basketball team to accomplish the feat.
Behind Maurice Kemp’s 29 points and 14 made 3-pointers, ECU managed to hold off a dangerous Tulane team inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
“It was an offensive game, obviously, and really proud of our group to find a way to win,” said ECU head coach Jeff Lebo. “I thought Tulane played really well. They shot it really well. … But I thought, offensively, it looked like a game where we were going to have to outscore them, which luckily we had a couple of more points at the end than they did.”
Alongside Kemp’s stellar performance, Akeem Richmond and Paris Roberts-Campbell each knocked down five triples to back the Pirates’ offense, with Richmond’s fourth made 3-pointer of the game resulting in a new record for the most made treys (87) in a single season in ECU basketball history.
Trailing 80-79 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in a back-and-forth second half, Kemp drilled a baseline jumper to put the Pirates (17-11, 8-7 CUSA) up one. Tulane’s Josh Davis quickly answered with a reverse layup to put the Green Wave in front 82-81 with 2:10 left.
Then the Pirates turned to Richmond on a set play with Kemp as a decoy coming off a ball screen, and the junior delivered, drilling a go-ahead 3-pointer to make it 84-82 with 1:58 remaining.
Davis had a chance to tie things up at the free throw line with 19.5 ticks remaining, but clanked both free throws, allowing Richmond to knock down a pair on the other end to extend the advantage to 86-82.
The Green Wave’s Ricky Tarrant knocked down a deep 3-pointer with 7 seconds left to bring it to within one, but Miguel Paul answered with a pair of makes from the charity stripe, and a Tulane desperation heave at the buzzer drew nothing but air as the Pirates escaped with the victory.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team and we’ve been through a lot of tough battles this year and last year,” said Kemp. “I think that experience helps us down the stretch in close games and we value every possession.”
Richmond contributed 21 points to the Pirates’ winning score, while Campbell (15) and Paul (13) were the other two ECU players to finish in double figures.
Davis finished with 23 points and a game-high 16 rebounds for the Green Wave (18-12, 6-9 CUSA). Jordan Callahan also added 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
“That was just one heck of a college basketball game,” said Tulane head coach Ed Conroy. “I think both teams were playing hard on the defensive end, but I thought the offense was at a really, really high level.”
In the first half, Tulane jumped out to early leads of 7-0 and 12-3 before ECU came alive.
Kemp got things started with the Pirates’ first six points of the contest before Richmond and Roberts-Campbell buried back-to-back 3-pointers to bring ECU within two, 14-12.
Trailing, 24-20, a Robert Sampson alley-oop dunk and Richmond triple pushed ECU in front, 25-24, for the first time with 7:20 left.
The two teams traded leads up until halftime, as Tulane took a 41-40 advantage into the break thanks to 15 first-half points from Davis and 14 from Callahan.