ORLANDO, Fla. - East Carolina fell just short of UCF despite holding a nine-point second-half lead, dropping a dissapointing 59-53 decision in both squads' Conference USA openers at the UCF Arena. ECU falls to 6-8 overall while UCF improves to 6-7. East Carolina's struggles at the venue continued with the setback as the team has lost four-straight in Orlando.
Kristine Mial and Chareya Smith paced the ECU offense with 15 points apiece, complemented by a season-high 10-rebound performance by Bryelle Smith. Chareya Smith just missed a double-double as she picked up nine rebounds. For the Knights, Erika Jones corralled a substantial 20 boards while point guard Aisha Patrick posted double figures with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds.
UCF ended up with a 53-43 advantage on the glass and scored over half of its points in the paint. The Knights, despite shooting just 33 percent, were able to put in 18 second-chance points and were awarded 31 foul shots as compared to 15 for the visiting Pirates. Both teams ended up with 14 turnovers with Bryelle Smith plucking a contest-best four steals.
Mial gave the Pirates a quick 3-0 lead when she hit a triple on the first shot of the game. ECU would hold an 8-4 advantage at the 15:27 mark, but the Knights were able to cap an 8-2 run - capped off by a Kayli Keough jumper - making the score 12-10 in favor of the home side with under 12 minutes remaining in the half.
The tide began to swing in favor of East Carolina from there, as a Chareya Smith layup with 5:27 on the clock gave the Pirates a 10-point cushion at 27-17. The lead would stay at nine as late as the 3:23 mark, as Britny Edwards knocked in a layup to afford East Carolina a 29-20 advantage, but UCF would rally with a 6-0 run to end the half.
Mial led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 13 points while Patrick paced the Knights with 10. Bryelle Smith grabbed six rebounds for ECU and added four steals but Jones posted 11 boards (five offensive) to help UCF score points down low.
The Pirates shot 34 percent in the stanza, draining 12 field goals on 35 attempts while the Knights checked in at 32 percent (10-for-31). Helped by Jones, UCF built a 27-22 advantage on the glass with nine offensive rebounds which led to the same number of second chance points.
ECU pushed the lead back to nine, 35-26 when Chareya Smith dropped in a layup early in the half, but the Knights answered with a 12-2 run to eventually take the lead on an Andrea Hines free throw. After Chareya Smith knocked down a free throw to pull the Pirates within three at 47-44, East Carolina was able to come up with some defensive stops but could not convert on its own end, allowing Patrick to drive the lane and score on a layup to make the score 49-44 with 6:11 left in the contest.
Jones put UCF in front by nine and made the score 55-46 at the 4:13 mark, but ECU rallied one last time and cut the deficit to three at 56-53 with 1:11 left. The Pirates had the ball in a one possession game as the clock ticked under a minute, however, East Carolina could not convert on two close looks - letting the Knights escape with the narrow victory.
The Pirates return home after over a month away from Minges Coliseum, hosting UAB Sunday, Jan. 8. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.