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Monday, September 25, 2023

Men's Basketball

Cougars aim to end C-USA woes

Adam Brown hopes to continue his improved play when the Cougars host SMU at 4 p.m. Saturday. | Zuhair Siddiqui/The Daily Cougar

Sometimes all a team needs is a break, be it at crucial juncture in a game or a respite from its normal schedule.

The Cougars got both Tuesday at Western Kentucky, breaking out of their Conference USA funk with a last-second win over the Hilltoppers of the Sun Belt Conference.

After starting 3-1 in C-USA, UH stumbled to a 12-11 record overall behind a 1-4 stretch in conference play. To make matters worse, UH was just 2-5 in road games entering Tuesday’s contest, with one win coming against in-town rival Rice.

After clotting the road bleeding, the Cougars (12-11, 4-5 C-USA) will now get a crack at ending their current two-game C-USA losing streak when they host SMU at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Mustangs (11-12, 4-5) came out losers in two of their last three, including a 62-51 home loss on Wednesday to league leader UTEP.

Coach Tom Penders knows that despite the team’s recent struggles, SMU is more than capable of leaving Hofheinz Pavilion with a win, especially if the Cougars don’t show the same poise they did against WKU.

“I thought we had a lot of poise,” Penders said. “We kept talking about it throughout the game, and they handled it very well. (SMU) has a great point guard in Jeremy Williams. He can score, he’s quick and he gets into the paint. He’s the key.”

Williams, a senior guard who scored 32 points against UH last season, leads the team in scoring, at 16.9 points per game, and is averaging 3.5 assists per contest. In C-USA play, he has raised his output to 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game, while raising his 3-point efficiency from 29 to 39 percent.

The Mustangs also boast a talented frontcourt duo in 6-9 forwards Papa Dia and Mouhammad Faye, who are averaging 12.2 and 10.3 points per game, respectively. Dia, who has been scoring at 54 percent clip for the season, has upped his output to 14.1 points per game in C-USA play.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Cougars will have to force the Mustangs to balance their offense and not let the interior or perimeter games individually become a primary option.

Penders said improved play from guys such as Adam Brown, who scored seven points and pulled down a crucial rebound in the waning seconds at WKU, comes tied to an increased focus on the defensive end.

“Adam’s been practicing better, and he’s playing defense. That’s the biggest thing,” Penders said. “He really played outstanding defense (Wednesday), and that’s something I’d been waiting for. That’s the biggest adjustment (for new players). Sometimes it takes kids a couple of months to figure it out. They watch themselves on film and compare themselves to (veterans) and they see.

“He’s just made up his mind that he’s going to be a good defensive player.”

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