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Friday, September 29, 2023

Men's Basketball

As doors close at Hofheinz, Cougars walk out with win

The Cougars outscored the Pirates 40-19 in the second half, holding East Carolina to 22.2 percent shooting. | Justin Cross/The Cougar

The Cougars ended the 2016-17 regular season in style on Sunday afternoon, closing out longtime home Hofheinz Pavilion with a 73-51 victory over East Carolina.

Cougars past and present were honored at the game, which was the last-ever at Hofheinz. It will soon undergo a $60 million renovation and become the Fertitta Center.

Over 100 former UH basketball players were in attendance to celebrate the end of an era.

To commemorate the final game, two former Houston basketball greats finished out the festivities as Elvin Hayes passed to Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon for the final dunk.

Five seniors were recognized before tipoff. Redshirt forward Danrad Knowles and forward Xavier Dupree, redshirt centers Bertrand Nkali and Kyle Meyer and redshirt guard Damyean Dotson were all recognized for their time and contributions as Cougars.

This win improves the team’s record to 21-9 overall, 12-6 in conference and locks Houston in as the No. 3 seed in the upcoming American Athletic Conference Tournament.

For the duration of the first half, the teams fought back and forth, each trying to grasp the lead. Houston narrowly secured a lead by the end of the half, heading into the break up 33-32 over the Pirates.

At halftime, Board of Regents Chairman Tilman Fertitta, Vice President of Athletics Hunter Yurachek and President Renu Khator hosted a groundbreaking celebration to signal the start of the renovations.

Houston’s momentum changed drastically in the second half, effectively shutting down East Carolina’s offensive drives. The Cougars quickly widened their lead less than halfway into the second half.

Redshirt junior guard Rob Gray led the way for the Cougars with 24 points and four assists. The 24 points put him over the 1,000 mark for his career, and he became the 46th Cougar in history to do so.

Gray put up 19 of his points in the second half, including 11 of them during an 18-3 Cougar run that blew the game open.

The Cougars continued to widen the gap, leading at one point by as many as 22 over the Pirates.

The Cougars out shot the Pirates on field goals (37.7 percent to 32 percent) and 3-point shooting (40 percent to 23.8 percent). Similarly, Houston out-rebounded (51-32) and had more steals (8-4) than East Carolina.

Dotson put up nine rebounds and eight points to finish fourth in the American in scoring with 17.4 points per game. Gray led the league with 20.3 as the Cougars were the only team with two players in the top five.

East Carolina guard Jeremy Sheppard led his team with 12 points and three assists. Deng Riak added eight rebounds and eight points.

With the win, Houston secured the No. 3 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

The tournament will take place in Hartford, Connecticut and their first game will be at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 10. Their opponent is yet to be determined. The game will be shown on ESPNU.

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