Another close call, but this one is different for Cougars
As hot and cold as the Cougars have been this season, they certainly haven’t been without their occasional flashes of brilliance.
The overtime thriller against Tulsa immediately comes to mind. And then there was that 118-70 thumping of Concordia University in the season-opening exhibition where Yates High School-product Joseph Young put on a shooting clinic from behind the three-point line.
They’ve been few and far between, but there’s also been some nail-biting comeback bids that fell just short in which the Cougars either narrowly missed closing the gap or just been plain unlucky.
For as little as an 11-9 team can boast, UH has weathered the storm quite well. Through a pair of demoralizing losing streaks and an 0-4 away record, Head Coach James Dickey has rallied his young team around the common goal of steadiness, and for the most part, he’s done relatively well.
But that being said, the Cougars 81-76 overtime win over UTEP at Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday was a victory unlike any other they’ve claimed this season.
In a change of pace from most of UH’s wins, this one started on the defensive end.
Down the stretch, freshman TaShawn Thomas looked as inspired as he has seemed all season, clamping down against UTEP in the closing minutes of overtime when the Cougars either got a stop or went home losers.
With the clock dwindling, El Paso’s slippery Michael Perez cut through the lane on back-to-back to possessions, looking to create easy baskets in UH’s usually soft paint defense. As if sensing UTEP’s plan to rush the middle, Thomas stepped up and took a charge that roused the 4,358 crowd to its feet, giving his offense another chance to keep the scoreboard moving. On their next defensive opportunity, Thomas stayed home after several attempts to draw him to the perimeter and swatted a lay-up attempt.
Dickey’s season-long defensive struggle with Thomas has been frustrating for UH, to say the least. At 6 feet 8 inches, the freshman has struggled to adapt to Division I speed and size as quickly as the coaching staff hoped, and his presence on the glass has been anything but consistent.
But it’s nights like Saturday when faithful Cougars can see exactly what Dickey did when he recruited the Killeen native. Whether or not Thomas is the ideal big man of the future for the Cougars is a question yet to be answered, but through twenty games, they tend to win when he puts up numbers.
On the offensive end, Joseph Young played his most efficient game of the season. He shot 3-of-4 from the field with two treys in 27 minutes. More importantly though, Young was in control. His shot selection was smart, and with the offense growing stagnant in the second half, Young’s threat from beyond the arch spread the floor for the Cougars and allowed Jonathon Simmons and Alandise Harris the open lane they needed to make plays.
Even more, Simmons impressed with 25 points and six rebounds, shooting a solid 10-of-18 from field. Harris, struggling with his jumper, smartly got himself to the charity stripe eleven times, adding 15 points and 12 rebounds to the mix.
With four players scoring in double digits, the overtime win saw the Cougars, for the first time, coalesce their individual strengths into a team victory. This win was different.
With the Cougars hitting the road for a pair of away games this week, the pressure will be high to turn Saturday’s strong showing into a formula for winning on a consistent basis. At this point, it’s a matter of long-term execution.
In the short term, they can rest easy knowing they can pull it altogether if they so chose.