Second time’s the charm
Before conference play began, head coach James Dickey knew the Cougars had things to work on to accomplish their goals.
He wanted the Cougars to play more consistently on both ends of the floor, shoot free throws better and play more of their offense through sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas and senior forward Leon Gibson in the paint.
“In conference play, everybody thinks they can win the league. The intensity level is going to rise. Everybody is going to start over and start 0-0,” Dickey said.
Dickey’s concerns reared their ugly head in a 73-54 loss to Southern Miss.
The Cougars captured seven consecutive victories before the trip to Hattiesburg, Miss., in their Conference USA road opener but could not consistently threaten the Southern Miss defense from the perimeter or inside.
The Cougars’ four top scorers didn’t meet their season scoring average.
Freshman forward Danuel House, who posted a career high the previous game, went 0-5 from the field and only scored on four points on free throws. The Cougars’ three point guards combined for eight points and three assists.
The offense can’t afford to sputter against East Carolina. The Pirates lead C-USA in scoring with 78.1 points per game and have the inside-out game the Cougars aspire to have.
Senior forward Maurice Kemp is C-USA’s second leading scorer and provides an inside presence with six double-doubles this season. Senior guard Miguel Paul steadies the offense with consistent point guard play. Paul has 72 assists and only 45 turnovers.
On Saturday, in a win against UCF, all of ECU’s starters scored in double figures.
Dickey hopes the Cougars can find a similar inside-out balance.
“We talk all the time about getting to the rack, throwing the ball to the block, getting your feet wet in the paint and getting to the free-throw line. We have to have some balance there,” Dickey said.
The Cougars are right behind ECU in points, averaging 78 points per contest. Sophomore guard Joseph Young has been effectively scoring the basketball: He’s had five 20-point games in the last seven contests.
The Cougars know they need to play championship defense to compete for a conference title.
“We have to play defense to be successful,” House said. “We have to push the ball up and down the court. If we can do that, we’ll be good.”
UH is eighth in scoring defense and sixth in field percentage. Young said communication is the key to their success.
“You can’t play great defense without talking to one another. You have to help your teammate by communicating in situations,” Young said. “When you help your team in that aspect, everything else comes together.”