With Robert Sampson still on the shelf with a left knee concern, the East Carolina men’s basketball team entered Saturday night’s game against the Rice Owls needing huge contributions from its two starting big-men, Maurice Kemp and Ty Armstrong.
They would not disappoint.
Kemp and Armstrong each notched career-highs in scoring with 33 and 22 points respectively, en route to a 79-63 Pirates win.
Kemp, who was celebrating his twenty-third birthday Saturday, became the first ECU player to have multiple 30 point performances in a season since Sam Hinnant in 2007-2008.
Armstrong, who had tied his previous career-high Wednesday night against Memphis with 18 points, has really picked up his game since the start of Conference-USA play.
ECU’s (13-8, 4-4 Conference USA) next leading scorer was point guard Miguel Paul with 7 points to go along with his 6 assists. Shamarr Bowden returned after a one-game suspension to split a pair of free-throws in 5 minutes played.
Continuing a trend in their last three games, the Pirates did not dig themselves in a hole early in the game. Armstrong scored the team’s first basket with a dunk, followed by a rare Corvonn Gaines triple that gave ECU its first lead, 5-2.
Rice (5-16, 1-6 Conference USA) showed some resistance in the first 20 minutes and led by as many as 4 in the first half (18-14). But the Pirates bounced back to lead at the break, 29-26.
When the second half began, ECU took the game over. The Pirates started the second half on an 11-2 run, and never looked back.
The highlight of the game came from Kemp, when the 6-foot-8 senior threw down a highlight reel dunk at the 9:08 mark of the second half.
Senior Tamir Jackson finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds for the Owls, both team highs. Junior Austin Ramljak was the only other player to score in double-figures for Rice with 12 points.
ECU will be out of action until next Saturday – when the Pirates visit Orlando to take on the Central Florida Knights (15-6, 5-2). In their first meeting this season, ECU trailed by 17 points with 11 minutes 38 seconds left in the second half, but rallied to win in overtime with a last-second triple by Gaines, 88-85. Knights senior Keith Clanton, Conference USA's preseason player of the year, scored a career-high 36 points in that game.
The Pirates are hoping the one week layoff will be enough time to get back to full strength with the return of Sampson to the lineup. There is still a lot of uncertainty to the severity of his left-knee injury.
UCF lost to Marshall 65-61 in Huntington Saturday.