Richmond 3 at buzzer gives East Carolina CIT title
The odds all season have been against East Carolina.
Nothing was different Tuesday night in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship.
The Pirates were playing on a court where opponent Weber State had won 14 straight. They were dealing with a raucous crowd of more than 10,500. And former Wildcats star Damian Lillard was in the house, staying over in Utah after his Portland Trail Blazers faced the Jazz on Monday night.
None of it mattered when Akeem Richmond hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Pirates to a 77-74 victory.
"We don't have anybody on our team that's better at shooting the basketball than Akeem Richmond," East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. "He has over 100 3s on the season, and makes tough ones in tough environments. He nailed it."
The win capped the best season in school history for the Pirates (23-12), who tied a school record for wins in a season set by the 1953-54 squad.
"We're a program that has not had a lot of tradition or a lot of history in basketball," said third-year coach Lebo, who has guided a team that hadn't had a winning season from 1998 to 2010. "It's been a fun, enjoyable season for us, something these kids will always remember."
Weber State can only think about the one that got away.
The Wildcats led 71-65 with 2:52 remaining but allowed East Carolina to close on a 12-3 run.
Weber State (30-7) had a chance to pad its late lead but had trouble at the line, making 9-of-19 free throws overall and just 3 of 8 in the final 2:52.
Miguel Paul led East Carolina with 23 points and Maurice Kemp added 20 for the Pirates.
Scott Bamfort led Weber State with 19 points, and Frank Otis and Davion Berry had 16 apiece.
The loss was Weber State's first at home since Dec. 15, a 10-point setback to Brigham Young. The Wildcats had won 34 of their last 35 at home.
"It hurts to know that we put ourselves in a position to win; we just didn't finish it," said senior Bamforth, who eclipsed Lillard as Weber State's 3-point king this season. "We had such great support from our fans tonight and it's disappointing we couldn't win it for all the people that have supported us. We just came up a little short."
Richmond, who scored only six points on the night, found nothing but net on his shot off a pass from Paul.
Overall, East Carolina hit 6 of 16 3s but shot 59 percent from the field. The Pirates also hit 11 of 14 free throws, ultimately the difference in the game.
"It's amazing," Richmond said of hitting the winner. "It wouldn't have happened without Miguel. My guy had left me because Miguel had been torching them all night in the paint. They had to do something —had to guard him or leave me and they decided to leave me. I wasn't really shooting the ball as well. I guess they decided I wasn't going to make it."
The Wildcats seemingly took charge after a layup by Berry, Kyle Tresnak's follow dunk and another dunk by Tresnak gave Weber State a 71-65 edge.
But Kemp started the comeback with a 3-pointer, Paul sank two free throws and Robert Sampson got the basket, not goaltending call, to tie it at 72 with 1:19 left.
Sampson's dunk with 38 seconds remaining put East Carolina up 74-73. Berry would make 1 of 2 free throws with 17.3 seconds left to tie it at 74. That was plenty of time for the Pirates to work the ball to Richmond.
Afterward, Richmond acknowledged sneaking peeks at Lillard during the game and wanted to talk with the NBA rookie of the year candidate afterward.
Instead, it was time to cut down the nets.
The Pirates had never won a Division I postseason game prior to this season. They sweated out a 66-65 win in the first round against Savannah State before cruising to double-digit victories over Rider (75-54), Loyola-Maryland (70-58) and Evansville (81-58).
They figured this one would be tough.
"The odds were against us but we had a lot of support back home," Richmond said. "And we worked for it, changed a lot of things. We had to bring this back to Greenville."