Greenville, North Carolina. Population 92,000+ (1th-most populous city in the state of North Carolina). Home of the East Carolina Pirates. And home of way too many close calls and heartbreaks for fans of the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Before every Cincinnati men’s basketball and football season there are always certain games that you look for on the schedule and circle as must-see. Whether it means home games you must attend or away games you must makes sure you watch on TV. In football, that list includes UCF, Memphis and to a lesser extent Navy, Temple, USF. In basketball, it’s Memphis, Houston, Wichita State, and of course Xavier, plus UConn and SMU.
One team absent from those lists is East Carolina. Cincinnati and East Carolina have very little in common since the Pirates joined the AAC in 2013. Yet, it seems like ECU and Cincinnati play more dramatic finishes than anyone else.
Here is a comparison of ECU to Cincinnati, since ECU joined the AAC in 2014-15
- ECU cumulative basketball record - 71-113 overall, 27-75 AAC
- Cincinnati cumulative basketball record - 150-48 overall, 80-22 AAC
- ECU cumulative football record - 26-47 overall
- Cincinnati cumulative football record - 46-31 overall
These numbers are extremely unimpressive for ECU and pretty incomparable. So why, why, why does Cincinnati always struggle when they go to Greenville, North Carolina?
Football Experience at ECU
Take football for example. Cincinnati has gone to ECU three times since the Pirates joined the AAC and all three have been more of a struggle than you might expect.
2 of the last 3 trips to Greenville have ended with a last second Cincinnati field goal for the win. This year’s game was a massive struggle for the 11-3 Bearcats, who won 46-43. ECU rolled up 638 yards of offense on Cincinnati’s highly touted defense and led most of the game before freshman Ahmad Gardner made a huge play with an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Cincinnati outscored ECU 18-3 in the fourth quarter and kicker Sam Crosa hit a 32 yard field goal as time expired.
The trip prior, in 2017, during Luke Fickell’s first season at Cincinnati, was the Bearcats’ worst loss to ECU since 1988 (lost 49-14). ECU had 578 yards of offense and beat Cincinnati 48-20, en route to a 3-9 season. This was their best performance, by far. Cincinnati ended the year 4-8.
In 2015, Cincinnati won 19-16, thanks to a last second field goal from Andrew Gantz to win the game as time expired.
Cincinnati is just 4-8 all-time vs ECU on the road.
So what about basketball?
Last year’s Bearcats went 14-4 in conference play, with 2 of those losses coming to regular season champion Houston. Cougars made the Sweet 16, to give further context for how good that team was. They also lost on the road to UCF, who made the second round of the NCAA Tournament and nearly beat Duke.
The Bearcats’ other loss? Yup, ECU! An ECU team that, by the way, finished 10-21 overall and 3-15 in conference play. Yup, that team beat a Cincinnati team that won the conference tournament championship.
Cincinnati lost in Greenville 73-71 on January 5th. The same issues we see today plagued the Bearcats as they hit just 3-19 threes and 8-18 free throws and committed 15 turnovers.
The first AAC meeting between the schools took place during the 2014-15 season. Cincinnati won at Fifth Third Arena, 69-48. But later would lose 50-46 in Greenville. The team shot 35% from the field, hitting just 16-45 shots.
Bearcats are 13-2 all-time vs East Carolina, dating back to their days in Conference USA together. Cincinnati has never lost at home but are 2-2 on the road heading into Sunday’s game.
But why is it always a struggle? Is that the quiet setting? Is it the lack of fans in attendance? Is it the lack of history? ECU hasn’t been good in either sport when they faced the Bearcats so is it a motivation thing? Cincinnati can get up to face Houston or Memphis, but has no desire to play ECU?
I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. All I know is after how the last four basketball games have gone, specifically, and pretty much this whole Cincinnati basketball season, fans could really use a break and get an “easy” win.
Perhaps, for one day, this school can put the ghosts of Greenville’s past behind them and fight onward to victory.