ECU men claw past Duluth for first win of season

Nov. 15—SHAWNEE — The East Central University men's basketball team split this weekend's games at the GAC-NSIC Classic with a hard-fought 62-58 victory over the 12th-ranked University of Minnesota Duluth for the Tiger's first win of the 2023-24 season.

ECU — which dropped a 62-56 decision to the University of Minnesota in its opener — is now 1-1 on the season heading into a pair of nonconference matches this week at the Kerr Activities Center.

The Tigers will face Oklahoma Christian at 7 p.m. on Thursday and will host Kansas Christian College at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

"It was a great effort from our team today," said ECU head coach Daniel Wheeler. "The guys were resilient for 40 minutes and found a way. That is a good team in Duluth. What a game! I am really proud of our guys and the way they responded."

The game started with a slow offensive pace as both teams struggled to find the basket in the first four and a half minutes. UMD broke the scoring drought with a free throw and a layup. However, ECU quickly responded with a 13-0 run, establishing a 13-3 lead by the 11:58 mark.

Despite the Tigers maintaining their lead throughout the majority of the half, the Bulldogs gradually closed the gap, eventually ending the first half with a narrow one-point lead of 24-23.

The second half saw the Tigers facing a 33-25 deficit after a five-minute scoreless stretch until Bryce Woolridge ended the Bulldogs' 9-0 run with a pair of crucial free throws. ECU rallied in the final 15 minutes, narrowing the gap through efficient ball movement and capitalizing on UMD's 11 fouls. With just over two minutes remaining, the Tigers claimed their first lead of the half at 53-52, thanks to Mason Jones' layup. A back-and-forth battle ensued, with UMD regaining the lead with a three-pointer, only for Bryce Woolridge to respond in kind, putting the Tigers ahead 56-55.

The Bulldogs had a brief advantage at 57-56 with 59 seconds left, but a layup by Mohamed Elgohary secured the lead for ECU.

A trio of Tigers led the offensive effort — Godsgift Ezedinma, Bryce Woolridge, and Keyon Thomas. Ezedinma put up 13 points going 4-for-8 from the field, 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and added a team-high six rebounds while Woolrisge was right behind with 12 points shooting 3-for-8 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Thomas was next with 11 points while adding a team-high five assists.