Senior center turns frustration to inside force

UH senior center Marcus Cousin finally knows how it feels to play through a collegiate season without a ton of frustration.

Frustration from being a seldom-used player for two years at Seton Hall. Frustration at having to sit out the 2006-07 season after transferring to UH. Frustration from struggling through last season with a foot injury, and having his toughness and talent questioned by fans and the media.

This season, Cousin’s frustration has finally given way to satisfaction.
The 6-foot-11-inch, 250-pound Cousin is making the most of his final collegiate season. He is averaging a solid 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, numbers that eclipse any others he has posted throughout his career. He is also shooting 52.7 percent from the field.

Cousin’s surprising turnaround is the feel-good story of the Cougars’ season. No other UH player can boast of having improved so much.

Perhaps no other player has had to deal with as many nagging issues as Cousin.
Cousin’s biggest problem from last season was a foot injury that limited his effectiveness in games. He averaged only 4.4 points and 4 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per contest. He wasn’t the offensive threat, aggressive rebounder or solid defensive presence fans envisioned he would be.

Some fans probably wrote him off as just another of head coach Tom Penders’ failed big-men recruits. His bandwagon might have included only his coaches and teammates.

Force in the middle
This season, Cousin made his presence felt from the start. He scored in double figures in seven of the Cougars’ first eight games. He also averaged 9.75 rebounds and 2.25 blocks during that stretch.

Cousin’s presence was also felt in last Wednesday’s 85-67 win over Conference USA rival East Carolina. He played 35 minutes and matched season-highs with 18 points and 13 rebounds. He hit seven of 11 shots and blocked four shots.

With Cousin patrolling the middle, East Carolina had little chance for a comeback.
‘When Marcus plays aggressive and plays really hard and asserts himself, he dominates,’ Penders said afterward. ‘He did some dominant things (against East Carolina). He was above the rim for rebounds; he wasn’t just rebounding balls that dropped in his area. He was really assertive with his moves and even went to the offensive boards. We still believe Marcus could be a huge difference for us in conference play’, he said.

Last season, smaller players frequently out-hustled Cousin for rebounds and hardly anyone was afraid to challenge him in the lane.

More opponents are losing the rebounding battle this season, and anyone daring enough to drive into the lane does so knowing Cousin will be waiting and ready to spring into action.

Cousin’s improved post-up skills have helped make the Cougars (12-5, 3-1 C-USA) a more efficient offensive team. The Cougars can drop the ball down to Cousin in the post, knowing he can take over from there. Plus, if opponents try to double-team Cousin, he has the presence of mind to find teammates for open looks.

Junior guards Kelvin Lewis (20.6 points per game) and Aubrey Coleman (18.1 points, 7.8 rebounds) have been bigger contributors than Cousin, but one can argue they would not be having such great seasons without the big man getting it done in the middle.

More might be needed
Cousin will play a vital role in the Cougars’ 12 remaining regular-season games, especially tonight against Texas-El Paso. Because the Cougars will be without Coleman, who received a one-game suspension after flagrantly fouling Arizona junior forward Chase Budinger on Saturday, Cousin might have to shoulder an even larger load on offense.

From here, the opposing big men will only get tougher to deal with. Cousin still has to face Memphis 6-10, 238-pound junior forward Shawn Taggart (10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds per game), Southern Methodist 7-1, 225-pound junior center Bamba Fall (7.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks) and Tulsa 7-0, 240-pound junior center Jerome Jordan (14 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks).

But for Cousin, it’s now a lot easier to step up when there’s little to no frustration involved.

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