Pirates drop OT thriller 61-58 against UCF

GREENVILLE, N.C. – After fighting back to force overtime, the ECU women’s basketball team could not seal the deal, falling to UCF 61-58 on Wednesday evening inside Minges Coliseum.

“I always tell the girls we may be down, but we are never out,” said head coach Nicole Mealing. “No matter what the score is, we are going to keep competing and we’re going to find a way to get it back throughout the game and that’s what they did tonight. I’m so proud of them for that.”

ECU was led by a career day from Lashonda Monk. Monk finished with a career-high 27 points on 7-of-17 shooting and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. The Greensboro, N.C., native also finished with eight steals and played a career-high 40 minutes.

Throughout most of the third quarter, no one would have guessed that the game was destined for overtime. After leading by five at the half, UCF ran off an 8-0 run to open the second half for a 33-20 lead. Monk finally buried a jump shot at the 6:58 mark to get ECU on the scoreboard in the second half.

The momentum continued to go UCF’s way as the Knights opened up a 39-24 lead, their largest of the game. However, a jumper by Diamond Battles with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter was the final field goal of the frame for UCF. For the final four and a half minutes, ECU held UCF to just two free throws. In that span, the Pirates cut the lead to 10 thanks to a three from Raven Johnson, a jumper from Salita Greene and a pair of free throws by Monk with just three seconds left in the quarter.

Knowing they needed to be aggressive to turn around the 41-31 deficit, the Pirates went into the fourth guns blazing. A steal by Monk on the first UCF possession led to a fast break three from the sophomore guard. Unfortunately, a UCF three canceled out Monk’s triple immediately and then neither team could score for more than three minutes.

A UCF layup at 4:56 again put the Knights up by 10. Following a timeout, the Pirates began to up their defensive pressure. A pair of steals by Monk led to her getting to the free throw line on both occasions, trimming the lead to just six. Following a UCF timeout, Justice Gee picked off a Knight pass and breezed in for a layup plus a foul. Gee’s ensuing free throw made the score 48-45 with 3:39 remaining.

UCF momentarily righted the ship when Lawriell Wilson hit a short jumpshot, but again the ECU press got results. After a Pirate miss, Monk turned a steal into a layup and then repeated the feat on the next UCF possession, getting ECU within one.

The final 75 seconds went back and forth. An offensive rebound by UCF’s Masseny Kaba helped her get to the free throw line and hit both tries. Then Gee found Johnson in the lane, with only a UCF foul preventing Johnson from scoring. Johnson made her two free throws, but fouled Kay Kay Wright at the other end. Wright made both tries from the charity stripe to restore a three-point lead with 37 seconds left.

Following an ECU timeout, Desiree Corbin found Alex Frazier on the right wing and Frazier knocked down a midrange jumper with a hand in her face. With the shot clock turned off, ECU was forced to foul. After two UCF free throws, ECU had one more chance with 19 seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, ECU moved the ball around the perimeter of the zone before it found the hands of Gee on the left wing. Gee, who had already hit a last second three to sink Liberty earlier this season, came through clutch again, banking in a triple to send the game to overtime.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, the comeback seemed to have taken all of the energy out of them. UCF won the tip and Kaba was able to get to the basket and make a layup to give UCF a 58-56 lead. For the next 4:30 of play, neither team could score. Finally, with the shot clock off, ECU was forced to foul. Two free throws extended the lead to four points.

On the next ECU possession, Monk was sent to the charity stripe and made her ninth and tenth straight free throws of the game. The door was open one last time when Kayla Thigpen missed her second free throw after ECU fouled to extend the game, but a deep three-pointer by Ariyana Williams fell just short to allow UCF to escape.

ECU finished 18-of-65 (.277) from the field and 7-of-21 (.333) from three-point range, but 15-of-17 (.882) from the free throw line. UCF shot 24-of-65 (.369) from the field, 2-of-13 (.154) from deep and 11-of-12 (.917) from the charity stripe. ECU won the turnover battle 20-15, but UCF outrebounded the Pirates 49-41. The Knights were especially helped by their bench, with UCF’s reserves outscoring ECU’s bench players 23-12.

Greene led ECU in rebounding, pulling in nine rebounds while Johnson and Corbin both had seven. Frazier made her 100th appearance in the ECU uniform, becoming the 39th Pirate to ever reach the century mark in games played.

ECU will hit the road to snap both a three-game losing streak and it’s winless streak on the road when the Pirates head to Temple on Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m., in Philadelphia.