MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Celeste Stewart led three Pirate players in double figures with 18 points as 11th-seeded East Carolina knocked off No. 6 seed Tulsa, 59-49, in the opening game of the 2012 Conference USA Women’s Basketball Championship Wednesday at the University of Memphis’ Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
“Obviously, I thought I just needed to step up,” Stewart said. “This is the best time to do it. I knew I had to step up for my team, and I recognized that [the Golden Hurricane] were going to back off of me, so I was like I’ve got to take that chance and I’ve got to take that shot for my team.”
The Pirates entered the championship tournament with a head of steam, having won five of their last six regular-season games and three straight. The hot streak continued into the postseason as East Carolina became the first No. 11 seed to win in the first round since March 6, 2003, when Louisville defeated Saint Louis, 86-59, at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.
“I’m just incredibly proud of this basketball team,” head coach Heather Macy said. “They’ve been so resilient throughout the year and just came up big at the right time. Celeste Stewart scored 18 points for us and handled the basketball incredibly well. (She) got us into our stuff and did the job defensively.”
With the win, the Pirates improve to 12-18 on the year and advance to take on No. 3 seed Tulane in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Tipoff for that game is slated for 11 a.m. Tulsa, meanwhile, concludes the 2011-12 campaign at 13-15.
East Carolina hit 40.9 percent of its field goals (18-of-44) and was 17-of-21 from the free throw line. The Pirate’ defense held the Golden Hurricane to a .365 clip from the field (19-of-52) and ECU out-rebounded Tulsa 36-29.
Chareya Smith posted her eighth-straight double-digit scoring effort with 13 points and Kristine Mial added 12 to go with a game-high nine rebounds. Stewart paced the squad with five assists while Smith had two steals and a pair of blocks to lead the East Carolina effort.
Smith scored the game’s first points with a jumper 35 seconds into the contest and East Carolina never trailed at any point. The advantage swelled to as many as 13 in the first half at 33-20 with 4:23 to go before the break. Tulsa outscored the Pirates 6-2 the rest of the stanza and a Chanice Scott 3-pointer trimmed ECU’s lead to 35-26 at halftime.
The Pirates hit four of their first eight shots in the second half to go up by 18 at 46-28 with 14:10 to play, but would go 0-for-14 the rest of the way. Tulsa cut the deficit to seven twice late in the game, but East Carolina wound up converting 13-of-14 free throw opportunities, including an 8-for-8 performance by Stewart over the final 7:47 to come away with the win.
Taleya Mayberry led Tulsa with 15 points and four steals, and shared team-high assist honors with Scott at two apiece. Taylor Hooker joined Mayberry in double digits with 12 points while Kadan Brady paced the Golden Hurricane with five rebounds.