FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)Freshman Amiya Joyner converted the go-ahead three-point play with 1:30 to play and blocked a potential winning basket with 3.2 seconds left to give East Carolina a 46-44 win over Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game Thursday night and the Pirates’ third NCAA Tournament berth.
It was quite a struggle for two defensive minded teams who played 15 days earlier with East Carolina winning 88-83 in triple overtime. In that game both teams shot 43% while this time Houston shot 30% despite missing all 12 3-point attempts while the Pirates shot 28% and made 1 of 8 3s.
“They picked us last, they picked us last and now we’re going dancin, we’re going dancin’,” ECU coach Kim McNeill said. “All year long we had a no quit mentality. We pushed in practice. Even if we go three or four days in a row we pushed in practice and this is why we did it, so we had a chance to go dancing.”
Both teams were in their first AAC final and last made the NCAA Tournament out of Conference USA – 2011 for Houston and 2007 for ECU.
Third-seeded East Carolina, picked by coaches to finish last in the AAC, got off to a miserable start, missing their first 10 shots and going 1 of 17 in the first quarter, although sixth-seeded Houston only led 11-2. After the Pirates got back in the game with a 12-2 run and took a 28-27 lead on a Danae McNeal basket with 3:16 in the third period, there were six ties and seven lead changes.
Morgan Moseley blocked a Bria Patterson shot and Morgan Moseley found Joyner ahead of the defense and fed her for a layup she converted while getting hit. Joyner, who had 15 rebounds, made the free throw for a 43-42 lead with 1:30 to play.
Houston missed three shots before ECU’s Micah Dennis made two free throws with 44.4 seconds left. Then the Pirates missed two free throws after a Cougar miss before Kamryn Jones made a driving layup for the Cougars with 17.4 seconds to go.
East Carolina quickly turned the ball over but when Laila Blair drove into the lane and fed Patterson, the 6-foot-2 Joyner was in position to stuff it. Dennis added a final free throw.
“We didn’t hide from the hard things, we rebounded, we defended, we won this game on what we do, we defended,” McNeil said.
Synia Johnson scored 13 points to lead East Carolina (23-9).
Kamryn Jones scored 13 points for Houston (15-16) and Patterson and Tatyana Hill had 11 with Hill grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Cougars lost their 16 games by an average of five points, with only one loss being by more than seven points and has seven losses by one possession, including its last five. They had a five-game winning streak since the triple overtime loss to ECU.
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