GAME NOTES: The CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament soldiers on to the semifinal round on Saturday, as the East Carolina Pirates play host to the Evansville Purple Aces at Williams Arena.
Awaiting the winner in Tuesday's championship bout will be the survivor of the Weber State/Northern Iowa matchup.
After conquering a pair of home tilts to open the tournament versus Tennessee State (84-72) and Eastern Kentucky (86-72), Evansville went on the road for its quarterfinal-round matchup at Canisius and came away with a thrilling 84-83 win. The Purples Aces are now 21-14 overall, and they have won seven of their last eight games dating back to the regular season.
As for East Carolina, after sweating out a 66-65 decision versus Savannah State in the first round, it has gone on to post much easier wins over Rider (75-54) and Loyola-Maryland (70-58) en route to the semifinals. At 21-12 overall, the Pirates have put together the best season in school history, with their previous high in wins (19) coming in 1974-75.
The teams met during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, with each winning once.
Evansville trailed by nine points at the half in its latest bout with Canisius but caught fire after intermission, and Colt Ryan's jumper with 2:30 left snapped a 69-69 tie and proved to be the game-winner. It was a historic night for Ryan, who not only shot 11-of-22 from the field and 12-of-15 from the free-throw line for a season-high 39 points, but he also became the program's all-time leading scorer, eclipsing Larry Humes' record of 2,236 points set from 1963-66. Troy Taylor was also a factor in the win with 10 points. On the season, the Purple Aces average 69.5 ppg and allow 65.5 ppg, relying on an outstanding turnover margin (+3.3) for much of their success. Ryan has been one of the nation's top scoring threats in the past two seasons, putting up 20.4 ppg this year while adding team-highs in assists (4.0 pg) and steals (1.5 pg). Ned Cox nets 11.0 ppg, and Taylor scores just 7.0 ppg but brings 7.0 rpg, 3.9 apg and 1.4 spg to the table.
East Carolina was tied at the break with Loyola but took control in the second half to pull away for the 12-point win. It was a lackluster shooting night for the Pirates, who made less than 39 percent of their field goal attempts, but they made a difference at the foul line, outscoring the Greyhounds there, 24-8. Maurice Kemp led the way with 20 points while adding three blocks and two steals. Robert Sampson tallied 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Miguel Paul narrowly missed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards. ECU has been rather vulnerable at the defensive end of the court this season, allowing more than 71 ppg, but luckily the team makes up for it by boasting an outstanding scoring average of 76.4 ppg. Kemp was one of Conference USA's best players this season, scoring 18.8 ppg (on 50 percent field goal efficiency) to go along with 7.9 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.1 bpg. Paul (12.8 ppg) is an outstanding floor general with 7.1 apg, and Sampson, Ty Armstrong and Akeem Richmond round out a balanced attack by netting between 9.0 and 11.2 ppg.
The Purple Aces aren't usually intimidated going on the road, as they have won three in a row away from home for the first time in more than a decade. But even with Ryan playing at exceptionally high level, expect Evansville's luck to run out against a balanced and dangerous ECU team playing on its home floor.
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