Ship still afloat
The Cougars did about everything in their power to hand ECU their first conference win of the year.
After cruising to a 24-point advantage with 7:46 left in regulation, UH (10-9, 2-4 C-USA) spent the final ticks of the second half in self-destruct mode, committing turnovers, giving up layups and allowing the Pirates (9-9, 0-5 C-USA) to reel off a 25-2 run that put them within a basket of taking the lead with a minute to play.
Luckily for the Cougars, ECU’s mad scramble for their first conference win fell short. As if daring the Pirates to steal the road win, UH played one of its worst offensive halves of the year en route to their 82-76 victory at Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday night.
The win broke UH’s four-game losing streak, and improved the Cougar’s home record to 9-4. Eleven of their 12 wins have come when holding opponents to under 80 points.
“I thought we played like we expected to play for the first 33 minutes,” head coach James Dickey said. “We competed, did everything we needed to do. But, boy, did we make it close there at the end.
“We just had that look in our eye at about four minutes where we thought everything was going south.”
After dominating for 33 minutes, the Cougars seemed either incapable of making a shot, or just plain unlucky as several wide-open looks rolled in and out.
UH’s lead ballooned to 24, courtesy of a slew of fan-pleasing offensive plays, including an alley-oop from freshman Joseph Young to a streaking Jonathan Simmons that roused the 2,954 paid attendees to their feet. The Cougars’ own version of Showtime did not last long though, and after nearly an entire two halves of attacking ECU’s mushy zone defense, UH went cold.
“I think we got too happy. We got too comfortable,” freshman forward TaShawn Thomas said.
“We didn’t execute. We just needed to continue doing the things that got us the lead in the first place, but we were rattled.”
With the shot clock turned off for the final possession, ECU misfired on four three-point attempts that would have put them ahead. After scrambling for a loose ball, Young dished ahead to Thomas for a break-away dunk that sealed the game for UH. This elicited a scream from Thomas that was four games in the making.
Darian Thibodeaux had nine points on 3-6 shooting, but made more noise in the game for his dramatic first-half exit. After scrapping for a loose ball with ECU point guard Miguel Paul, Thibodeaux hit the ground loudly, clutching his left eye.
“I got two deep scratches under my eye. He didn’t get my pupil, but my eyeball burned. I couldn’t see nothing at all,” Thibodeaux said.
“I don’t know if he was trying to go for my eye or not, but he went for the ball and he got me. After that I couldn’t see anything.”
The UH training staff reported Thibodeaux has a corneal abrasion in his left eye, but is expected to play against UTEP on Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore Jimmie Jones contributed two points, four assists and three steals in 21 minutes. The walk-on has continued to impress in practice, and has brought energy to UH’s bench in his first handful of opportunities on court.
“I was really proud of him,” Dickey said. “He brought us a great spark tonight. He’s smart, he knows how to play and he makes everyone else around him better.”
With Thibodeaux in the locker room, Jones entered the game and immediately ripped the ball from Paul, and led the break for an easy layup.
After losing four straight, Jones’ play shined under the pressure of a weakening lead and a stagnant offense.
“J.J. (Thompson), from the start of the game, was all over the court, pushing it and getting layups. When I got in, I wanted to keep the tempo the same, so I just pushed and pushed,” Jones said.
“It felt great, not everyone gets an opportunity and I’m glad I got mine.”