Teri LaJeunesse, ECU sports information
The Ada News
The East Central University men’s basketball team bounced back from an ugly first half and earned a 61-55 come-from-behind win over Southern Arkansas Saturday at the Kerr Activities Center in Great American Conference action.
The Tigers were a cool 6-of-29 from the field in the first 20 minutes, hit just 1-of-12 3-pointers and scored just 19 points. ECU still managed to stay within six by halftime (25-19) before exploding for 42 points in the second half.
"I thought the guys gritted it out and fought through some adversity," said ECU men's coach Mac McConnell. "Overall, it was a great team effort. We just have to continue to get better as a team and good things will happen for us."
The Tigers still struggled, especially early on, against a zone defense deployed by Southern Arkansas.
"We pretty much know everybody is going to play zone against us until we start knocking down some threes, and we were 1-of-12 at halftime," McConnell said. "We have to continue to build off this and get better at playing against the zone. We need to have confidence when we are shooting the ball outside."
With 8:28 left to play, ECU still trailed 41-35, but that's when the Tigers mounted a comeback. ECU used an 11-1 run over the next three minutes to take a 46-42 lead with 5:04 remaining on the clock. The Muleriders managed to cut the deficit to one point a minute later with a triple, but junior Miles Mitchell countered with a three on ECU’s next possession to add to the lead. With that momentum, the Tigers pushed the lead out to as many as eight points over the remaining four minutes to earn the 61-55 win.
A jumper by De'Mario Fountain after a nice assist from Colby Carr with 38 seconds left put ECU ahead 58-53 and gave the Tigers some late breathing room.
"I told my guys (at halftime) we needed to make it a defensive battle and grind it out, and when it comes down to it at the end of the game make plays," McConnell said.
Miles Mitchell hit two big 3-pointers in the final 5:44 to spark the ECU rally.
For the first time in 2012-13, the Tigers (5-7, 2-4 GAC) saw double-doubles from two players in the same game. Carr garnered his third straight with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while junior Jason Williams earned his first of the season with 10 points and 10 boards. Fountain added 12 points for the hosts.
"Colby Carr stepped up big. I think he's getting back into playing shape," McConnell said.
The game started as a tight battle for the lead, with three tie scores in the first five minutes. With the score knotted at six, the Muleriders (5-6, 2-4 GAC) took control of the momentum with a 5-0 run over the next 1:30.
The Tigers came out ready to fight right away in the second half and used an 8-0 run over the first three minutes to take a 27-25 advantage. The Muleriders countered with a 5-0 run to regain the lead, with 15 minutes left to play in the second half. SAU kept the lead for the next 6:30 and pulled out to lead by as many as six during the span.
ECU will now hit the road for the first of three straight away games. The first stop is Jan. 10 at Northwestern Oklahoma State (7:30 p.m.), with stops at Southwestern Oklahoma State (Jan. 12) and Southern Nazarene (Jan. 17). The Tigers return home Jan. 24 for a game against Southeastern Oklahoma State at 7:30 p.m.
Note: Ada News sports editor Jeff Cali contributed to this report.