Cougars clinch bye in C-USA tourney
UH head coach Joe Curl has preached the importance of playing good defense to his team for the entire season and it definitely paid dividends against East Carolina.
UH guard Jasmine Johnson picked off a pass from ECU forward Crystal Wilson with two seconds left to seal a 66-65 victory Saturday at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C. The win gives the Cougars (19-9, 11-5 Conference USA) a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which begins Thursday in New Orleans.
‘That was as big of a play as there was all year,’ Curl said. ‘Anybody in the conference who can come to Marshall and (East Carolina) and get two wins ‘hellip; it’s almost unbelievable.’
The Pirates held a 60-56 lead with 4:44 left in the game when Curl called a 30-second timeout, which made a huge difference. After that, UH played more aggressively, especially on defense, for the rest of the game.
The Cougars trailed 62-58 with 4:09 remaining, but outscored ECU 8-3 down the stretch to grab the win. The Cougars’ biggest play came when forward Brittany Mason was fouled with seven seconds remaining.
The Cougars were in the single-bonus, meaning they had to be ready to get back in transition when Mason missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. Johnson and her teammates were focused, enabling them to make the play they needed to hold on for the victory.
‘Our defense won the ball game,’ Curl said. ‘(East Carolina) is used to scoring 80-90 points at home. They had not been beaten at home in conference play, and we came in and got it done on (their) Senior Day.’
Guard Brittney Scott led the Cougars with a career-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
‘(Scott) was huge all day,’ Curl said. ‘We ran a lot of stuff for her and she stepped up and made shots.’
After pulling down only one offensive rebound in the first half, the Cougars positioned themselves better on the offensive end in the second half, grabbing 12 offensive boards. ECU (17-12, 8-8) shot 17 more free throws than the Cougars, so extra opportunities on offense played a huge part in keeping the Cougars in the game.
‘(Offensive rebounding) was a big difference in the game,’ Curl said. ‘They made more (free throws) than we shot, but we still overcame it with good rebounding.’
Saturday’s win was not only huge because the Cougars secured a bye, but also because it was UH’s 176th win under Curl, who passed Dot Woodfin to become the Cougars’ all-time leader in victories.
The bye will come in handy, because starting point guard Porsche Landry suffered a mild concussion in the first half. Her availability for Friday’s game against the winner of the Central Florida-Rice match is unknown.
‘To have another day of rest for (Porsche) is going to be important,’ Curl said. ‘We’ve been blessed all year to not have injuries, but hopefully this won’t take long, and she can heal up for us.’