GREENVILLE, N.C. – With a record 6,276 fans in the stands, Justice Gee hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift ECU to a 66-63 win over Liberty on Thursday afternoon in Minges Coliseum.
Attendance Record on Education Day
Thursday’s game was ECU’s annual Education Day inside Minges Coliseum and students from all over Pitt County came to watch the Pirates. The crowd, which is the biggest in ECU women’s basketball history, was loud from tipoff all the way until the final basket. At times, that energy from the crowd helped ECU stay within striking distance of Liberty, as the Flames led for 34:46 of the game’s 40 minutes, but never by more than nine points. After scoring the first two points of the game, ECU fell behind 6-2 and eventually trailed 18-13 at the end of the first quarter.
“I’ve never had to scream so loud during timeouts and not be heard,” said interim head coach Chad Killinger. “I think we set a new attendance record today so that’s something our girls can be really proud of, that they got to play in front of the largest crowd to ever see a women’s basketball game here at ECU. Little things like that mean a lot in a season like this. I’m really happy for the girls.”
Defensive Second Quarter and Offensive Third Quarter
The teams were evenly matched in the game’s two middle periods, but both frames had different styles. In the second quarter, the two teams combined for just 24 points and shot 7-of-26 (.269). ECU (6-2) made only seven field goals in the first half, but did get to the free throw line 12 times, hitting eight of those tries. After Liberty (2-7) took a 31-24 lead into halftime, both teams came out shooting much better in the third quarter. The Pirates scored 20 points in the frame, shooting 50.0% from the field and making six free throws. Unfortunately, Liberty was nearly as good, scoring 18 points in the frame to maintain a 49-44 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Gee’s Big Fourth Quarter
After ECU closed the gap to just four points midway through the fourth quarter, Gee took over the game down the stretch. The junior guard stole the ball in the Liberty backcourt and finished a layup to make the score 56-54. Liberty responded with a layup and a chance at a three-point play. KK Barbour missed the free throw for the Flames and Johnson corralled the rebound and passed ahead to Gee who buried another layup. Johnson stole another Liberty pass and found Gee who returned the pass, allowing Johnson to make another ECU layup while being fouled. Johnson added the free throw to give the Pirates a 60-59 lead, their first since it was 2-0.
The lead lasted just two seconds after Liberty was fouled and Emily Lytle made a pair of free throws. But the Pirates retook the lead when Gee found Lashonda Monk cutting backdoor for a layup. ECU extended its lead to 63-60 when Gee added her fourth steal and then threw a pass ahead to Monk for another layup. Liberty answered once again when Ria Gulley hit a corner three as the shot clock expired, making the score 63-63 with 1:04 remaining.
Frantic Final Minute
With the score deadlocked, both teams had chances to take the lead. Necole Hope missed a jumper followed by a missed layup from Liberty’s Emily Lytle. Gee pulled down the defensive rebound and ECU took a timeout to set up a play. Out of the timeout, ECU had three good looks at the basket, with Salita Greene and Johnson pulling down offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive. After the third Pirate miss, Gee dove for another offensive rebound and the Pirates once again called timeout. With just four seconds remaining, ECU did not have much time and after the first option did not materialize, Monk passed to Gee at the top of the key. Gee let loose a long attempt that hit nothing but net, setting off a wild celebration as the buzzer sounded. It was the first game-winning shot for ECU since Shala Hodges made a game-winning three against Marshall on Feb. 26, 2012.
“There was one-point-something seconds on the clock so you had to shoot it and I shot it,” Gee said. “We run plays like that in practice with eight seconds, five seconds, three seconds on the clock and we practice those shots. I’ll be in positions to shoot those shots or Jade (Lewis) or Ariyana (Williams) that normally shoot the three. I just thank God that it went in.”
Inside the Box Score
Monk finished with a team-high 16 points for ECU, as well as leading the team in assists (6) and steals (5)…Gee finished with seven points, three assists, four steals and was +11 in her 17 minutes on the court…Alex Frazier nailed a three-pointer in the second quarter, the first time she has hit a shot from behind the arc since the 2015-16 season…Ariyana Williams scored two points for ECU, her first points since returning from missing the first six games because of an injury..The Pirates forced Liberty into 23 turnovers and scored 30 points off those miscues…The win is the first time the final margin has been five points or less this season, after ECU went 5-3 in such games last year.
Ashtyn Baker and Ria Gulley led Liberty with 13 points apiece while Emily Lytle had 11...Kierra Johnson-Graham had a team-high eight rebounds while Baker had seven…The Flames held a 40-35 advantage on the boards.
The Pirates play their last home game before Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 16. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m., inside Minges Coliseum as ECU takes on USC Upstate.