ECU hoopsters lose a heart breaker in Norman

11-9-07 - East Central used a smaller lineup to claw and scratch its way back into the game and force overtime against Division I Denver University Thursday night in the 2K Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the University of Oklahoma's Lloyd Noble Center.

But Denver’s Rob Lewis sank two free throws with 9.3 seconds left in the extra session as the Pioneers knocked off the stubborn and scrappy Division II Tigers 76-75.

The game counted as an exhibition for ECU while Denver officially opened the 2007-08 season.

ECU trailed 28-13 at the half and 43-23 with 11:52 to go before making an impressive comeback behind some long-range bombs from senior guard Terrell Carpenter, junior Tariq Naqqash and freshman Nathan Fuqua and clutch free-throw shooting.

The Tigers were 11-of-27 from 3-point land after hitting just 1-of-10 in an anemic first half. Carpenter, who led ECU with 19 points, hit 4-of-6 long-range tries in the second half while Naqqash nailed 3-of-7 after intermission. Carpenter also dished out a game-leading five assists.

ECU was also a near-perfect 20-of-22 from the free throw line for the game.

The Tigers also cranked up their second-half defensive pressure, forcing 13 second-half turnovers after the Pioneers, using a patient Princeton-style offense, had just five in the first half.

“We couldn’t just sit back and let them run their offense anymore, that was pretty evident. They got us 15 points down so we took our post guy out and went with all guards to try and pressure up on them and try to speed the game up. We were fortunate they missed some point blank shots, turned it over a few times and we finally started making a few shots.”

Carpenter, despite just 5-of-16 shooting overall, hit 4-of-6 long-range tries in the second half, to pace the Tigers with 19 points while the Australian Naqqash buried 3-of-7 long-range attempts and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. Fuqua was 3-of-6 from 3-point territory and finished with 11 points.

ECU junior Don Riley was impressive in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points, including a thunderous slam dunk with 12:53 to go to ignite the Tigers’ massive run down the stretch.

From that point on, ECU outscored Denver 38-23 to force overtime.

The Tigers pulled within 60-58 on a Fuqua 3-pointer with 1:16 to go and snatched its first lead of the game at 61-60 on a Naqqash trey with :53 remaining.

The Pioneers forced OT when Adam Tanner sank the second of two free shots with :03 remaining. Carpenter’s desperation 3 glanced off the side of the rim at the end of regulation.

ECU’s momentum appeared to carry over to overtime as it led 72-67 when Riley converted an old-fashioned 3-point play after converting a layup, drawing the foul and hitting a layup with 1:29 left.

The Tigers even enjoyed a 75-71 advantage with :15 left after Carpenter nailed a pair of free shots.

But a Kyle Lewis 3-pointer, followed by an ECU turnover set the stage for Lewis’ two free throws with :09 to go. Carpenter’s desperation off-balance runner in the lane was blocked by Tyler Bullock as the buzzer sounded.

Some of ECU’s firepower was extinguished as Fuqua, Naqqash and Ian Adams all fouled out in the overtime session.

Lewis paced the Pioneers with 19 points as he nailed 12-of-13 free throws. David Kummer followed with 16, Kyle Lewis added 14 and Tanner ended up with 12.

Denver shot 52.5 percent for the game and held a 33-22 rebounding advantage. ECU was just 37.9 percent from the floor for the game, but hit at a 48.3 percent pace in the second half after converting just 17.4 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

“Everybody in there down the stretch played well,” Shannon said. “Our effort was great.”

The Tigers face San Francisco at 4:30 p.m. Friday to wrap up play in the classic.