GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY - Fresh off their win at the CollegeInsider.com championship game, the ECU Pirates were greeted by throngs of fans as the team returned home Wednesday morning.
Junior guard Akeem Richmond hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Pirates over Weber State 77-74 Tuesday night, capping the best basketball season in ECU history.
At about 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the team arrived at the Pitt-Greenville Airport, where a packed room of fans were waiting.
"I was not expecting this at all man, I really wasn't. We brought this championship back for Greenville," said Richmond.
"I love to see all the pirates out here showing us love and you know, we did this for Pirate Nation," said senior guard Corvonn Gaines.
"We wouldn't have had an opportunity if it wasn't for the Pirate nation coming together," said Head Coach Jeff Lebo.
The Pirates trailed 71-65 with 2:50 remaining, but closed 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.
"We made the late run and luckily they missed a couple of foul shots and we had the ball in the right player's hand for the last shot," said Coach Lebo.
That last shot was a 3-point buzzer-beater by Richmond, to win ECU's first ever national basketball championship.
"Speechless, speechless, absolutely speechless," Richmond said of his clutch basket.
"It was incredible, I was praying the whole time [when] it was in the air, it was like it happened in slow motion," said senior forward Maurice Kemp. "When it went through, I just started sprinting, trying to chase him down. He's one of the best shooters in the nation and he came up big for us."
Miguel Paul led East Carolina with 23 points and Maurice Kemp added 20 for the Pirates (23-12), who tied a school record for wins in a season set by the 1953-54 squad.
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 entered Tuesday's game on a 14-game home winning streak.