The Miners started off this contest in the same rut that they've been in for about a month now. ECU jumped out to an early 11-3 lead, but the Miners were quick to respond this time putting together a 15-3 run that gave them an 18-14 lead. The two teams would trade leads for the rest of the half. Christian Polk hit a 3 with 30 seconds remaining in the half to give the Miners a 27-26 lead, but the Pirates answered with one of their own, and took a 29-27 lead into intermission.
The second half began with one of the craziest incidents I've ever seen in college sports. Tim Floyd, after being warned about a coaching box violation, was hit with a technical after asking for a timeout and retreating to his bench. The veteran coach was outraged at the call, and soon received a second technical that ejected him from the game. Head assistant Phil Johnson then expressed his displeasure with the referees, and he was quickly t'd up twice and ejected as well. After the mess was sorted out, the Pirates shot 8 free throws, and the Miners would be playing catch up the rest of the game.
Surprisingly enough, the Miners responded well. ECU would go up by as many as 13 points, but the Miners never went away. They fought hard, and chipped away at the lead little by little. After cutting the lead to 63-59 with over 7:00 to play, they Pirates went on a 7-0 run to extend their lead back into double digits at 70-59 with 5:10 to play. The Miners would once again make a run to cut the lead to 5 at 70-65 with 3:21 left, but in the end it wasn't enough as the Miners fell 83-76.
The Miners were led once again by senior G Randy Culpepper who had 22 points, and 6 assists. Gabe McCulley had another big night putting up 17 points, and pulling down 7 boards. Julyan Stone also had a busy night with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, and Christian Polk chipped in with 14 of his own. The Pirates were led by Jamar Abrams who seemingly responded with a huge three every time the Miners made a run. He finished with 25 points and 7 boards. Jontae Sherrod also had a big game with 21 points and 7 boards, and Darrius Morrow nearly picked up a double double registering 19 points, and 9 rebounds.
Let me start off this portion of the recap by saying that this was most poorly officiated game I have ever seen. I am usually not one to make excuses about the refs, but this time I just can't help myself. The technicals aside, every time down the court these refs were calling ticky tack fouls that were not called on the other side. Translation, 45 free throws for ECU to 17 for the Miners. Even with that, the Miners were still nearly able to pull this one out. In the end though, a 28 free throw disadvantage was just too much to overcome.
Credit to ECU though. They came ready to play. Not only that, but they (and really just the Abrams kid) responded with a huge shot every single time the Miners seemed to find a little bit of life. They could've folded under the pressure, but they stood tall like the good team they are, and put this game away. Of course being in the double bonus with about 17 minutes left in the game helps a tad.
Regardless of everything that happened, the Miners are not playing the type of ball that we have become accustom to seeing. Who knows, maybe they're tired. Maybe we got a little spoiled here after last year, and expect to see the same accomplishments that the the 09-10 Miners had. Truth is, this team is not nearly as deep as last year's squad was, and maybe they're just worn down after the shut down defense they've been playing all year. Randy and Julyan are both averaging near 40 minutes a game, and that has to take a toll on those guys.
Up next for the Miners (20-8, 8-5) is a huge home matchup with league favorite Memphis (21-7, 9-4). The Tigers dropped Houston by 11 on Tuesday night, and are playing some solid basketball right now. The game will have a 1:00 mst tip time, and will be covered nationally by ESPN2. The Miners have now lost 2 in a row for the first time this season. Miner fans, your team needs you, now more than ever. Sell this game out, and show the team we have their back. Let's help our Miners get back on track for the conference tourney, and the NCAA tournament that follows. Go Miners.