Greenville (ECU) - The Pirates welcomed coach Joe Dooley back to the sidelines with an 81-56 season-opening victory over Delaware State in his first game since coaching the Pirates from 1995-99.
Isaac Fleming and Seth LeDay each scored 12 points and ECU won its season opener for the 19th consecutive year.
ECU has now won 17th straight home openers and Dooley moved 5-0 in his first game of the season inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
"It always feels great [when you win]," Fleming said. "It's a great feeling, starting off on the right foot and we are just trying to keep running with this momentum."
After a back-and-forth battle through the first 15 minutes, ECU (1-0) asserted itself by ending the first half on a 12-4 run, with all 12 points being scored by freshman Tae Hardy or sophomore Justin Whatley, to take a 37-29 lead into the locker room.
Hardy started the spurt with a 4-point play before Whatley knocked in his first of two 3s during the run to put the Pirates up by seven. The two teams traded baskets in the final three minutes of the opening half with Whatley's second 3-pointer putting ECU up by eight.
Whatley finished with a career-high 10 points while Hardy added 11 in his collegiate debut.
The Pirates extended their lead to 18 early in the second half making 5 of 7 shots to start the frame and forcing four turnovers in the opening 6:29.
The lead ballooned to 20 with 9:27 remaining before resting with a final margin of 25.
After shooting just 28 percent in the first 15 minutes, ECU blistered the nets at 54.3 percent clip in the final 25, making 19 of its final 35 attempts.
"I thought our young guys got a little sped up trying to make plays as opposed to letting them come to them," Dooley said. "But, I thought once we settled down in the second half we showed some pretty good poise."
ECU asserted itself defensively in the second half as well, forcing 12 turnovers and collecting eight steals. In all the Pirates scored 22 points of 20 Hornets' miscues and held Delaware State (0-1) to just 33.3 percent from the field.
Seven players scored eight or more points for ECU and nine played 16 or more minutes as a part of a balanced attack.
Saliek Edwards, a native of Winterville, N.C., led the Hornets with 22 points.
ECU returns to action Friday, Nov. 9, against former CAA rival James Madison. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 7:45 p.m.
ECU HEAD COACH JOE DOOLEY
"You know like I said to our guys. One of the biggest things is you don't want to make winning not fun but we did play hard. I thought there were some really good stretches but there were some stretches where we were really disorganized on defense which worried me but for the most part I thought we had guarded ball screens really well during the preseason but tonight we had some problems but when you look at it statistically it looks a lot better statistically than it will look on tape. They had some chances on the rim that I thought they should have converted and we have to clean that up quickly. Now, to our guys defense, I do think we were a little sped up and a little nervous early. It was the first time in front of a crowd with a lot of young guys. I thought we did some uncharacteristic things that we hadn't done and that being said we will watch the tape. Hopefully these guys will get some rest tonight and we'll get back to work tomorrow getting ready for Friday."
On offensive efficiency
"Well I thought Justin (Whatley) and DeShaun (Wade) got us off to a good start in the first half. You know they made some shots and you know it's not very usual that you shoot higher from three than you shoot from two. It's a little embarrassing almost but I thought for the most part our three point shots were good attempts. I thought our young guys got a little sped up trying to make plays as opposed to letting them come to them. But, I thought once we settled down in the second half we showed some pretty good poise."
On starting three freshmen
"One thing is that they're not afraid. I think that's the number one thing that they're not afraid to be out there. We're going to have some stretches where we look bad because we have so many young guys and to tell you the truth they're trying to figure out what we want. We've had some guys out so the timing hasn't been great. Obviously K.J. (Davis) has been out, Seth (Leday) has been out extended time. John (Whitley) has been out. I think once we can get some practice time with those times hopefully we'll smooth some things out both offensively and defensively."
SENIOR ISAAC FLEMING
On starting 1-0:
"I mean when you win it always feels great. It's a great feeling, starting off on the right foot and we are just trying to keep running with this momentum."
On the freshmen presence:
"Like I told everyone before the game, they're not playing like freshmen. They have a lot of games under their belt with high school and AAU so we just try to tell them to play their game and they're here for a reason. That's what they're doing. As I'm looking at this, this is a great team basketball. You've got more than four people in double figures so you can't beat that."
On the crowd atmosphere:
"They're starting to believe in us and have faith. We just don't want to let the fans down, just keep giving them what they're coming for and that's to watch a win.
FRESHMAN TAE HARDY
On his comfort level:
"You know that first game, first game as a freshman, little jitterbugs were in the stomach at first. I got a little time in and I was comfortable. I was ready in the starting lineup. A couple minutes in, a little shaky. Time kept going on in the game and I got comfortable, it became second nature basketball."
On starting as a freshman:
"It came as a surprise a little bit. But, as a team we work hard and I feel like coach makes the right decision. You know, three freshmen, we all worked hard. We all work hard to get in a position and we are just trying to fight."
"I knew I was going to start probably right before the game when he was talking about matchups and when I heard that I was just happy."