Caleb White lifts ECU to special victory on Senior Night

Caleb White scored a career-high 28 points in his final game inside Minges Coliseum. (Photo: Walter Powell, 247Sports)

Senior Night isn’t always a fairy tale ending for collegiate athletes playing their final home games across the country in any sport, but Caleb White got to experience one in the most fitting way possible on Wednesday.

Behind White’s heroic, career-high 28-point effort, East Carolina finished off its home slate with a 66-62 triumph over Connecticut inside Minges Coliseum, marking its first victory over the perennial powerhouse program since 1971 and only its second all-time.

White, the only fourth-year senior on the Pirates’ roster, drilled seven 3-pointers and received 18 clutch points as help from sophomore forward Kentrell Barkley to stave off UConn’s late rally.

Fellow seniors Michel Nzege (two points, five rebounds) and Andre Washington (four points, one assist, two blocks, six rebounds) also went out as winners.

“I prayed a lot and just tried to treat it as much as I could like another game,” said White, who’s netted 1,545 career points, good for fourth all-time in school history. “I don’t know. Things were going, kept shooting it. ... Pretty much all of them felt good. At least until they started paying more attention to me. But we had other guys step up and make plays, too, and that’s what’s good about our team.”

Caleb White with Jeff Lebo 

Acting head coach Michael Perry, who recruited White from Buckingham, Va., said the team had been waiting on this type of outing from the senior forward, who has suffered through a somewhat inconsistent final season.

“We’ve been dreaming of it, believing for it, praying for it to happen for so long,” Perry said of White’s breakout game. “Caleb’s an interesting player because even when he misses, the shots are in and out, it’s not like he’s all over the rim.

“But to see those finally go down for him tonight was really rewarding and really special.”

Wednesday’s affair was a classic game of runs.

Trailing 43-38 early in the second half, the Pirates (14-16, 6-11 AAC) went on a torrid 14-0 spurt fueled by three consecutive 3-pointers from White, Elijah Hughes and Barkley to make it 52-43 with 11:15 remaining.

Not to be out-done, the Huskies (14-15, 9-8) rattled off 10 unanswered to take a 53-52 edge following Rodney Purvis’ four-point play, only for Barkley to take over and score the game’s next eight points to put the Pirates up 60-53 with under 6 minutes to play.

Purvis’ clutch trey from the corner later tied the game at 62-62 with 1:38 remaining, but UConn wouldn’t score again.

Two Washington free throws spread out over separate trips, and makes from the charity stripe from Hughes and Jeremy Sheppard, combined with terrific defense, proved to make the final difference.

“It was the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Barkley said of winning for the seniors. “I’m glad Caleb played a great game tonight.”

The win over UConn means ECU has now beaten every team in the American Athletic Conference since joining for the 2014-15 season besides SMU and Houston, both of which the Pirates have defeated multiple times before in Conference USA.

“This is not just a great win for our team, this was a great win for our program,” said Perry, who’s been an assistant coach at ECU for 10 seasons. “It just reaps of we’re there. The guys see how close we are to being at the top of the league, and that’s where we want to be. We’re not in this thing to be competitive. We’re in this thing to win it.

“That’s where we want to be. This is just another step in getting to where we want to be, where we can be a consistent championship contender in this league. You have to start by beating teams at the top of this league and beating teams that are always there.”

ECU will close out its regular season slate at Houston on Sunday before traveling to Hartford, Conn., for next week’s AAC Championship tournament.

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