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Thursday, June 1, 2023


MEN’S BASKETBALL: Cougars fall to Mississippi State, 70-64

The Cougars’ defense did enough to defeat Mississippi State on Saturday.

Their offense, however, sat most of this’ one out.

UH shot 31.2 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from the free-throw line, allowing the Bulldogs to escape Hofheinz Pavilion with a 70-64 win.

Head coach Tom Penders was thrilled with the Cougars’ effort, but not their free-throw shooting in the second half (3-of-9).

‘It was a heck of a defensive battle,’ Penders said. ‘It was a matter of us simply not making free throws down the stretch.

‘If we make them, we win.’

Despite its offensive struggles, UH’s defense gave the Cougars (5-3) more than a few opportunities to take control of Saturday’s contest.

UH forced 19 turnovers while committing only six. The Cougars also forced the Bulldogs (9-2) to work for good looks at the basket, as Mississippi State shot a dismal 38.6 percent.

For Penders, it was a big step for a team that was allowing its opponents to shoot 51.1 percent entering Saturday.

‘In many ways, I feel better (about my team) because the defense stepped up today,’ Penders said. ‘The shooting part is not always there. I think our defense now knows what it has to do.’

The score was even at 64 with 40 seconds left to play, but the Bulldogs closed the game on a 6-0 run to claim the victory.

Barry Stewart sank a jumper with 34 seconds remaining to put Mississippi State up 66-64. After Aubrey Coleman failed to connect on a jumper during the Cougars’ next possession, UH was forced to foul.

Then, it was Jarvis’ Varnado’s time to shine.

Vanardo had missed 10 of 15 free-throw attempts before he was fouled with 13 seconds left. But the 6-9 forward stepped up to the charity stripe and calmly sank both free throws to give the Bulldogs a 68-64 lead.

After UH failed to score on its next possession, Ravern Johnson connected on two free throws to wrap up the scoring.

UH led 56-52 with 5:34 remaining before Mississippi State scored’ seven consecutive points to claim a 59-56 advantage with 2:47 left to play.

The Cougars cut their deficit to 64-62 when Coleman connected on the first of two free throws with 1:08 remaining. He then tied the game at 64 by making a layup after grabbing the rebound off his missed free throw.

The beginning of the second half was as much of a battle as the end.

The Bulldogs and Cougars came out of halftime tied at 34, but Mississippi State scored the first’ nine points of the second half to take a 43-34 lead with 17 minutes left.

UH answered with its own 8-0 run, capped by a Coleman layup, to cut its deficit to 43-42 with 14:22 remaining.

Phil Turner sank two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 49-42 advantage with 12:55 left, but the Cougars were far from done. UH went on a 14-3 run, capped by a Kelvin Lewis 3-pointer, to take a 56-52 lead with 5:34 remaining.

‘Our guys left everything they had on the floor,’ Penders said. ‘We just didn’t (have) enough today.’

The Cougars certainly did not receive adequate offense from its role players, as Coleman and Lewis accounted for all but 18 of UH’s 64 points.

Coleman led all scorers with 28 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. Lewis chipped in 18.

Varnado scored 13 and added a game-high 17 boards.

UH will continue its longest homestand of the season when it welcomes The Citadel to Hofheinz Pavilion at 7 p.m. Monday. Penders said he is interested in seeing how his team responds to Saturday’s loss.

‘You learn a lot more when you lose and see how you bounce back,’ Penders said.

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