‘It’s that time of the year’: Houston locked in after dominant Tulsa win
In the midst of a slow start, an adrenaline boost from redshirt freshman guard Caleb Mills via a second-half scoring spree got Houston it’s payback in Tulsa for the January loss and now sits alone atop The American standings.
With only four games remaining in the season, the Cougars know that every contest is crucial to reach the goal they set out before they ever stepped foot on the court, and for sophomore guard Nate Hinton that means accepting the challenge on the defensive end.
The 6-foot-5-inch guard went to knock on head coach Kelvin Sampson’s door on Monday and asked to be given the task to defend Tulsa junior guard Brandon Rachal, who came into the game averaging 13.2 points and five rebounds in road contests.
“It’s that time of the year,” Hinton said. “I just felt like I wanted to impact winning. I just want to win, so I just want to do whatever it takes.”
Rachal was held scoreless on Wednesday night in 29 minutes.
In the contest, Mills also exploded at the beginning of the second half, scoring the first 19 points for Houston, and helping the Cougars put the game out of reach.
“I came into the game and I didn’t want to settle for 3’s because it’s been off,” Mills said. “I started shooting the midrange and it started coming back to me.”
After the matchup, Sampon discussed an adjustment the team made to get Mills going.
“At halftime tonight, we tweaked one thing with Caleb and that’s making him a baseline runner and just told him to attack,” Sampson said.
Wednesday’s eventful game also saw Tulsa’s temper flare-up when senior forward Martins Igbanu pushed junior forward Fabian White Jr. after being called for a travel, which then led to Elijah Joiner being ejected for going into it verbally with a Houston player.
“We’ve been in these situations so many times,” Sampson said. “My rule is if I see you retaliate, then you are coming out.
“The most important thing we have going is our basketball program period. Not you, so don’t do anything to embarrass our program … Our kids did a great job with that.”
Even though White Jr. was also called for a technical foul in the scruffle, he did not retaliate at either Igbanu or Joiner and instead took momentum in knowing that Tulsa’s was losing the mental battle.
“I just took a shoulder to the chest, and I kind of sold it more …” White Jr said. “But that’s when we know we are in their head, and we do feed on that because they aren’t worried about basketball anymore.”