Double-doubles lead Cougars to victory against Bears
Junior forward Devonta Pollard and junior guard Cavon Baker both posted double doubles to help the Cougars pull away from Morgan State in a 72-57 victory Saturday night at Hofheinz Pavilion.
Though the Cougars shot only 32.9 percent from the field, the team was able to out rebound the Bears 62-38, 29 being offensive boards. It wasn’t the Cougars’ best shooting night and head coach Kelvin Sampson says there’s a tendency to think a team didn’t play well if the ball isn’t shot well. But Sampson feels they did just fine.
“I thought our shot selection tonight was outstanding,” said Sampson. “I don’t know that we took more than one or two bad shots which is pretty impressive this time of year. We didn’t shoot the ball very good, and we didn’t make a lot of shots, but they were good, open shots.”
Sampson said he is going to continue to tell players to take those shots, move and rebound at least 50 percent of their missed shots. Although he and his team are still getting used to each other, he has set a simple blueprint to yield success.
“If we’re going to be successful, we have to be a blue collar, hardnosed, hardworking team,” said Sampson. There is no team that we say ‘if we play well, we’ll beat this team’. We don’t know that. I have no idea how good we are. For us, we have to understand that when the ball is tipped off we just need to go out and go play. We’re going to have some shooting nights, but this is the second straight game that we didn’t shoot the ball well. We found ways to win, so were starting to figure out what our identity is.”
Despite having a stifled shooting game, several players contributed solid performances, including Baker, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Pollard who notched a career-high 19 points and 13 rebounds, crediting practice as the reason as to why he has improved since the team’s first exhibition game on Nov. 8.
“In practice going into the exhibition game, I had ups and downs,” said Pollard. “I feel like from the Murray State game and this game, the practices I had prior, I’d been playing and practicing hard each and every day. That’s something that coach keeps instilling in me; if I practice and play hard then I should have a good outcome, so I just try to keep that in mind.”
Although mistakes were made, Sampson said there was nothing that he saw during the game that isn’t going to keep getting better. They just need to play more.
“I’ll be glad when we play our third game and our fifth game and our tenth game and our twelfth game,” said Sampson. “We’re definitely going to be better on December 22 than we are on November 22. We’ve got a new coach, new players. You talk about returning players, but they’re all new to me and I’m new to all of them. The only thing that is going to help us is practice time and continuously playing more and more games.”
Not only will the team improve upon gaining more in-game experience, a positive is that fans can expect the return of two starters who have been out due to injury.
“L.J. Rose is our starting point guard,” said Sampson. “He’ll really help us when he comes in, also Bertrand Nkali who’s to be our starting center. Playing one game in eight days or three games in three weeks helps get those guys healed… Well evolve in December and January, and continue to evolve even in February.”