Hosting a defending national champion for the first time in school history, East Carolina jumped out to a nine-point, first-half lead inside a packed Minges Coliseum, but Connecticut found its way off the ropes in the second half and left Greenville with a 60-49 victory.
The Huskies (16-11, 9-6 AAC) were powered by the AAC’s leading scorer Ryan Boatright, who had a game-high 16 points and four rebounds, while forward Daniel Hamilton scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds.
Raleigh native Rodney Purvis, who transferred to UConn from N.C. State, shot 1-for-6 in the first half but responded with some key threes in the second half to rack up 12 points.
The Pirates (12-16, 5-10 AAC) were led by Marshall Guilmette, who tallied 13 points and grabbed seven boards.
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Down 33-24 at the start of the second half, the Huskies opened up the second stanza with a 12-2 run and took a 36-35 lead on a Amida Brimah bucket.
A Lance Tejada 3-pointer would tie the game at 38 shortly after, but it would be the last time ECU would be even with the Huskies.
The Pirates threatened throughout the half and trailed only 46-44 after a Guilmette put-back at the 6-minute mark, but Huskies never relinquished the lead. With 1 minute, 27 seconds left to play, Boatright sank two free throws to put UConn ahead 58-49.
The Pirates opened up strong against the defending national champions, taking a 33-24 lead into halftime thanks to an 13-3 run near the end of the first half.
Guilmette, who’s 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the game gave ECU its first lead of the night, scored nine first-half points, while guards Terry Whisnant and B.J. Tyson tallied seven points each.
Whisnant would be held scoreless in the second half, while Tyson added four points to finish with 11. Caleb White tallied nine points for ECU.
The two teams tied three times in the first half, but ECU used a 13-3 run to catch even then speed past the Huskies.
A Whisnant fast-break layup tied the game up at 14-14 at the 8-minute mark and put the run in motion. East Carolina would take a 15-14 lead when Tyson went 1-for-2 from the free throw line and the Pirates would stay on top of the Huskies until halftime.
East Carolina used a mixed attack, as the Pirates got points in the paint in their half-court offense and ran an efficient fast break. By the end of the half the Huskies had trouble defending all aspects of the Pirates offense.
ECU would cap off its 13-3 run when a pair of Guilmette free throws to put the team ahead 25-17.
After a UConn three-pointer, Tyson drove through the paint untouched for a layup before adding a fast-break bucket to extend the lead to 29-20 with under two minutes to go in the first half.
With 15.5 seconds left on the clock, the Pirates called a timeout after a Kentan Facey basket and inbounded the ball to Tyson, who drove the length of the court to score the final points of the first half.