GREENVILLE, N.C. - The East Carolina women's basketball team began its ninth season of Conference USA play in style, blowing past Marshall 78-54 Monday evening at Minges Coliseum. The Lady Pirates are now 12-2 overall and 1-0 in league action while the Herd is 8-5 in 2009 and 0-1 in conference play.
ECU improved to 7-0 at home with the 24-point win, marking the largest margin of victory in program history in a C-USA game. The previous standard was a 23-point win over the same Herd team a year ago in Greenville. The Lady Pirates have also won 21 of their last 26 contests at Minges Coliseum.
ECU shot .560 percent for the contest, marking the seventh time this season it has reached the .500 plateau, while holding the Herd to .383. The Lady Pirates also turned in their best efforts from beyond the arc and at the free throw line, producing .667 and .875 efficiencies, respectively. However, Marshall won the battle of the boards, 35-32, including 19 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore Crystal Wilson shined for the second-straight game, following up her 20-point performance against Binghamton last week with 18 tonight. Additionally, Kelly Smith nailed all five of her three-point attempts to end up with 15 points while Chareya Smith tallied 12 on 4-for-4 shooting from the field and an identical 4-for-4 mark from the free throw line. Kim Gay led the team in rebounding for the third-straight game, picking up six.
"I was very pleased at how unselfish we were with the ball and how we came out ready to play," head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. "There was a stretch in the second half where we were very sloppy, but it is a great way to begin conference play."
It was back and forth play that highlighted the first four minutes, but Kelly Smith hit her second three of the game to give ECU a 10-6 advantage at the first media timeout. The lead would grow to as much as seven, when Crystal Wilson recorded two steals and two fast-break layups. Ashley Clarke the added a free throw to make the score 19-12 as the clock ticked under 12 minutes.
A 4-1 run, capped off by two Ariana Jackson free throws, gave the Lady Pirates a double-digit lead at 23-13 with nine minutes left in the half. Another Wilson steal and layup caused the Marshall sideline to use one of its timeouts at the 8:44 mark, but East Carolina continued in front, 26-13, with under eight minutes showing.
A Kelly Smith three, her third of the game, pushed the margin to 17 before Tynikki Crook ended a six-minute field goal drought for the Herd, leaving the score at 31-16. The Lady Pirates kept pushing ahead, using a 9-2 run, completed by a Wilson three-point play to establish their largest advantage of the game, 40-18. A Gay layup, the last points of the half by either team, allowed ECU to take a 48-23 lead into the break while ending the period on a positive 27-10 stretch.
Wilson paced the Lady Pirates with 14 points during the half, while Kelly Smith contributed 12 on 4-for-4 efficiency from beyond the arc. Additionally, Gay led the squad with four rebounds while Clarke dished out four assists.
East Carolina converted 17 of their 26 attempts from the field for a .654 percentage while Marshall hit just .357 percent. The Lady Pirates also were .857 from three-point land and .889 from the free throw line. On the glass, ECU owned a modest 18-15 advantage.
The Lady Pirates did not relent out of halftime, scoring the first four points before Chantelle Handy hit a jumper that rolled on the rim and fell. After Kelly Smith gave East Carolina a 31-point cushion, the Herd cut the margin back to 25, but two Chareya Smith free throws made the score 59-30 at the 14:15 mark.
Marshall attempted to rally, pulling within 59-36 on a free throw by Veronica Ruiz, but a Spivey three stopped the run. The Herd were not done, however, as they got the deficit down to 20 on a Crook jumper with 7:20 left in the game. The Lady Pirates regained control from there, never letting Marshall get closer than 17 the rest of the way.
East Carolina returns to the Minges Coliseum court Friday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m., hosting Southern Miss, who reached the 2009 C-USA Tournament championship game.