With one minute remaining in the game and his team up 20, head coach James Dickey was still pushing the Cougars to compete on defense and imploring his point guard, sophomore J.J. Thompson, to push the ball up the floor after rebounds.
Dickey wanted the Cougars to finish strong. They did, putting Louisiana-Lafayette away in the second half 66-52.
“The 3-point line changes the psychology of the game,” Dickey said. ”Whenever someone makes a three the opponent thinks they are about to go on a run… I didn’t want us to relax there at the end.”
The Cougars took control early, grabbing a 16-point halftime lead on strong a performance from the 3-point line, a trend that would continue in the second half.
The Cougars went 8-15 from the 3-point line in the first half, outscoring the Cajuns by 21. Freshman forward Danuel House, who was battling flu-like symptoms, hit four 3s before the break, including one attempt from the UH logo near half court.
“It was hard for me to breathe,” House said. “But I had to suck it up because my teammates needed me.”
Despite not starting, House finished with 22 points – a career high – and was aggressive on offense. He was too aggressive at times and had to reign himself in and take good attempts.
“There was a point where Joe (Young) had to tell me to set my feet to make more shots,” House said. ”Being able to work the team offense was crucial for us tonight. I’ve been working with the coaches lately, which has helped my game.
In the first half, a 19-4 run pushed a one-point lead to 15 with contributions from different sources.
“Tonight was about sharing the ball and making the extra pass,” House said. “Everybody on this team can score.”
UH connected 14 times from behind the arc. Young was one of the best performers, he hit 6-11 from long distance and tied a career high with 27 points.
Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas — the Cougars’ leading scorer – didn’t lead the team in points but filled the stat sheet. He finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for his 15th career double-double.
“We don’t really care who is the highest scorer of the night. Everybody is going to have their night at some point.(Thomas) did a good job on the boards,” Dickey said. ”He went 3-4 at the free throw line and didn’t force anything.”
The Cajun’s played a zone defense that the Cougars capitalized on. The threat of Thomas in the paint and penetrations allowed for good looks from long distance, redshirt sophomore Joseph Young said.
“Our guards really set the tempo for us tonight. They were able to get inside the paint, and once the defense collapsed on them they found the open man,” Young said. “The point guards get all the credit tonight.”