GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) - Freshman Jayden Gardner scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the final seven minutes to help ECU hold off Texas Rio Grande Valley, 69-64, Monday inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum top open a three-game homestand.
The Pirates (3-2) scored 17 straight points to turn a 9-8 deficit into a 25-9 lead over a span of five minutes. The cushion reached 19 points, 37-18, as freshman Tae Hardy buried a 3-pointer with 3:44 left until halftime. Sophomore K.J. Davis scored all seven of his points in the opening period. ECU shot 60 percent (15-of-25) from the field and held the Vaqueros to just 22.9 percent (8-of-35) shooting.
UTRGV (3-2) sliced six points off the Pirates' lead in the final three minutes of the half and ECU went into the locker room up by 13, despite 13 first half turnovers.
"We got off to a really good start," Pirate head coach Joe Dooley said. "I thought we got a nice little rhythm going on offensively. I thought the guys played well, rebounded the ball and played in transition."
The Vaqueros quietly put together a comeback as the Pirates were as cold in the first 11 minutes following intermission as they were hot in the first half, scoring just seven points and allowing UTRGV to get within four with, 48-44, with 9:03 remaining.
After freshman Tyler Foster scored three straight points to push the lead back out to three possessions, Gardner scored six consecutive points and the Pirates were back up by double figures, 57-46, with 5:13 to play.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Tyson Smith and a layup by Soloman Hainna made it a four-point game with 37.3 seconds remaining, but Gardner converted an old fashioned 3-point play four seconds later to push the Pirates' lead back to seven.
Isaac Fleming made 3-of-4 free throws in the final 20 seconds to secure the victory before Levin Jordan banked in a 3 with three seconds left to set the final margin.
"The guys are playing hard, but we've got to combine playing hard and playing smart, which is a habit we do have to create," Dooley said. "I do think we are trying hard, we just need to slow down on offense and let the game come to us a little bit more. "
Junior Seth Leday scored 12 points off the bench for ECU, while Tyler Foster added 11 in his first non-start of the season. LeDay and Davis each grabbed a team-high eight rebounds to help the Pirates to a plus-13 margin on the glass.
Despite committing 26 turnovers on offense, ECU was able to rely on its defense to stymie UTRGV in the end, holding it to just 27.9 percent. The Pirates finished the game at a 50.0 percent (23-of-46) clip.
Free throw shooting allowed the Vaqueros to stay as close as they did, making 20 attempts from the charity stripe.
Terry Winn III led UTRGV with 16 points and Smith added 14.
ECU returns to action Wednesday, Nov. 21, against Prairie View A&M. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.