GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina cut a 16-point deficit down to one in the final minute Friday, but American escaped with a 72-68 win in the season opener for both teams at Minges Coliseum.
Despite the loss, ECU has still captured 24 of its last 29 decisions at home, recording identical 12-2 records the last two seasons.
Junior Ashley Clarke paced three Pirates in double figures with 18, while seniors Kim Gay and Allison Spivey added 11 and 10, respectively. Senior Kelly Smith also collected a team-high six rebounds, four of them on the offensive glass. Additionally, Spivey drained both of East Carolina's three-point field goals.
The Pirates put up 64 shots as compared to 40 for the Eagles, but converted just 25 to shoot 39 percent. East Carolina was also whistled for 31 fouls, allowing American to make 34 of its 43 free throw attempts. The Pirates also struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just two of 15 attempts for a 13 percent showing. However, East Carolina did force the Eagles into 36 turnovers, scoring 33 points as a result.
After Michelle Kirk opened the scoring with two free throws, ECU scored six-straight points to take an early lead. With the Pirates ahead 9-5 at the 17:53 mark, American took off on a 6-0 run over the next 3:10 to go back ahead by two. After Gay forged a 17-17 deadlock via a layup with 9:56 left in the half, the Eagles shut down the East Carolina offense on the way to a 24-17 lead. American kept its seven-point cushion until the 4:02 mark, when the Pirates out-scored the visitors 6-3 to pull within 31-27 at the break.
Gay scored a team-best eight points in the first half while Spivey added seven. Celeste Stewart grabbed two rebounds while Crystal Wilson and Ariana Jackson tallied three steals.
ECU forced 20 American turnovers in the half, scoring 21 points off those miscues. The Pirates also racked up 10 steals and dished out nine assists.
Gay hit two free throws 3:04 into the second half, making the score 36-33. However, the Eagles scored the next 13 points to push out to a 16-point lead.
East Carolina chipped away at the deficit over the next seven minutes, eventually using a three-pointer by Allison Spivey to make it an seven-point game at the 6:08 mark.
After a Chareya Smith steal led to a Clarke layup, making the score 61-56, Liz Leer stretched the lead back to seven on a mid-range jumper. Holding a 67-60 advantage with 1:45 remaining, American allowed Kelly and Chareya Smith to hit consecutive jumpers, bringing the score to 67-64.
Two Kirk free throws pushed the Eagle lead back to five, but Clarke and Chareya Smith put in two-straight layups to make it a one-point affair with 24 seconds left.
Another pair of free throws by Kirk left the Pirates with a chance to tie the contest as ECU faced a three-point deficit, 71-68, with seven seconds showing. However, Kelly Smith turned it over in the corner, allowing American to seal the win at the line.
The Pirates have a quick turnaround, traveling to Cullowhee, N.C. for a matchup with Western Carolina Sunday. Tipoff from the Ramsey Center is scheduled for 2 p.m.