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Friday, September 22, 2023

Men's Basketball

Cougars gain momentum

The Cougars got back on the right track Wednesday night with a convincing 79-61 win over Conference USA rival UTEP, putting together a complete performance and dominating in virtually every phase of the game.

“We knew they were going to be like a wounded animal, coming in here after getting beat at home,” said head coach James Dickey about the Miners. “I was really proud of our team and the way they played tonight.”

The Cougars started off with another blistering first half like the one against Tulane, shooting 70 percent on 10 3-point attempts and 56 percent from the floor overall to jump out to a 43-29 first half lead. This time, the difference was in the way they played the second 20 minutes.

“We played with a lot more pop, a lot more energy, and we talked to each other a lot more,” said freshman forward Danuel House, who came up big for the Cougars with 19 points on six shot attempts and five assists.

Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas had another great game, flirting with a triple-double. When the final buzzer sounded, Thomas had 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, with six of his rebounds coming on the offensive glass.

“I could have had more, honestly,” said Thomas. “Coach told me to just stay aggressive, stay focused.”

Freshman center Valentine Izundu made the most of his 14 minutes, with two points on one shot and three raucous blocks on the Miners that helped energize the Cougars and keep them focused on maintaining their lead in the second half.

“Everybody loves when Valentine gets in. He’s the youngest player on the team, so to everybody, he’s like our little brother,” Thomas said.

Dickey was also pleased with his young center’s effort and performance and indicated that Cougar fans can expect to see more of his athletic, exciting brand of play.

“He’s a defensive presence in there and has a really good awareness in there for a freshman,” Dickey said. “Valentine came in and gave us some quality time with his presence defensively. We’re going to be playing him more and more. He’s been getting better every day.”

The Cougars managed a solid defensive effort in the second half against the Miners, holding them to 25 percent shooting from behind the arc. The Cougars also dominated the paint on both ends of the court, with five blocked shots on the defensive end and 12 second-chance points on offense.

The Cougars need the momentum, headed into a stretch of three games on the road against Tulsa, Memphis and UTEP. If they can put together three games like this, they should give their C-USA opponents all they can handle.

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