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Friday, September 29, 2023

Men's Basketball

Cougars pounce on Pirates; keep tourney hopes alive

A balanced scoring attack took pressure off Aubrey Coleman, while Desmond Wade’s strong defense against East Carolina star Brock Young helped the Cougars advance to the second round of the Conference USA Tournament. They will take on Memphis at noon today for a trip to the semifinals. | Justin Flores/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars headed into the first round of the Conference USA Tournament against East Carolina with a sense of urgency, knowing that they have to win this tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Led by the great shooting of senior guard Aubrey Coleman, UH, the No. 7 seed, rolled 10th-seeded ECU 93-80. Coleman scored 29 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out five assists, earning the praises of head coach Tom Penders.

“(Aubrey Coleman) was outstanding. He shared the ball and only had one turnover, and he did a good job defensively — he was very active,” Penders said.

ECU’s bright spots were Brock Young and sophomore forward Darrius Morrow, who scored 24 points and 22 points, respectively.

Aubrey Coleman received help from teammates such as senior forward Sean Coleman, who scored 11 points. Sophomore point guard Desmond Wade contributed 14 points and seven assists, while senior guard Kelvin Lewis put up 16 points.

Junior forward Maurice McNeill, in his first game back after attending to a family illness, played well off the bench with 11 points and eight rebounds.

“I thought that (the balanced scoring) was critical,” Penders said. “It takes all the pressure off Aubrey when everybody shares the ball.”

In Penders’ eyes, though, defense was the key to victory.

“If I had to name a player of the game, it would have been Desmond Wade,” Penders said. “Desmond played the perfect game. If you look at his stats, while he was on the floor he did a great job on Brock Young.”

Houston (16-15) jumped out to an early 22-14 lead when Lewis hit a 3-pointer with 10:43 remaining before halftime. ECU (10-21) gained some momentum and trimmed its deficit to four, but the Cougars responded with a 9-0 run that ballooned their lead to 45-32 on a McNeill dunk with 1:38 left in the first half.

Coleman led the UH’s offensive onslaught in the first half, scoring 16 points to help Houston grab a 50-37 halftime advantage.

The Cougars wasted no time getting going in the second half, as Sean Coleman drilled a 3 on a pass from Aubrey Coleman on the first possession after halftime to push the lead to 53-37. A Wade 3 followed by five straight points by Lewis put Cougars on cruise control, up 66-44 with 16:17 remaining.

ECU faced its largest deficit, 80-55, at the 11:03 mark of the second half. The Pirates made a valiant effort late, however, finishing the game on a 25-13 run. UH’s lead dwindled to only 10 points on a Brock Young layup with 3:52 left in the game.

But the Cougars tightened their defense, holding ECU to only two points the rest of the way.

The Cougars were red hot from beyond the arc, shooting 50 percent (13-26), with Wade and Aubrey Coleman combining to go 7-of-9.

“You have to knock them down. If you told me we were going to make 13 tomorrow, I’d say our chances of a victory are a lot fatter,” Penders said.

The win propelled UH to a quarterfinal matchup against Memphis at noon today. Houston beat Memphis 92-75 on Feb. 24 to break an 11-game losing streak against the Tigers. Coleman led UH in the win with 34 points and eight rebounds.

“We have to play the same way we played last time. Last time we played a great game defensively, and we also had a similar line in terms of spreading out the scoring,” Penders said.

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