Men's Basketball

Cougars break 100 to roll past North Alabama

Six Cougars scored double digits in Saturday’s 108-83 win against the North Alabama Lions, with junior guard Jherrod Stiggers and sophomore forward Danrad Knowles leading the way with 20 points each.

The team came out profoundly in a fast-paced offense led by Stiggers, who drained a game-high six three-pointers, adapting well to the quick style of play and looking very comfortable with his shot.

“Our coach said just run the offense and shots will come to me, so that’s what I was doing,” Stiggers said.

“He says shoot the ball when you are open, but turn down a good shot for a great shot. So if I get that shot, I’m taking that shot.”

Although Stiggers felt as though he and his teammates made a lot of mental mistakes, he said they can be corrected and the team will move forward. No one is more anxious to correct mistakes and move forward than head coach Kelvin Sampson.

“There are so many things that I don’t know about this team,” Sampson said. “For instance, I hadn’t realized that Chicken (Danrad Knowles) had never played in an exhibition game before. He had to sit out the first seven games last year, so a lot of ways Chicken is a freshman.”

Much has been made in the media about the state of this developing team and the possible turnaround, so one of the most critical aspects of yesterday’s game was Sampson’s evaluation of the players. Sampson used this game to learn something about each player.

“Playing without L.J (Rose), it was interesting to see how Chuck handled the pressure and the decisions he made,” Sampson said. “Devonta didn’t play very well today, but we know he is much more capable of playing better than that.

“J.C. Washington is a true freshman; he’s playing in a college game for the first time in his life. So I just sat back and watched and just observed.”

The team looked impressive; they shot at 57.1 percent in the first half, building a 55-40 lead, and finished at 60.7 percent overall. The three-pointers were not off limits either — they hit 17, finishing the day at 53.1 percent from the trey.

“We shot the ball well, but that’s how we play,” Sampson said. “Offensively, we’re going to play fast and we’re going to shoot a lot of threes. I’ve been saying that from the go. We scored 108 points, but we have to get our free-throw percentage up closer to 75 or 76 percent.”

Although the team lacks a true center, Sampson says they have to compensate for being undersized by playing better defense — including defending the dribble — but the offense and teamwork were positives of the day.

“Any time you have 25 assists off of 37 field goals, that is pretty good. That means were sharing the ball and that’s a good thing,” Sampson said.

“It’s Nov. 8. No team in the country is anywhere near where they are going to be, and the message that we keep sending our team is we are going to be a lot better on Nov. 14, and we’re going to be much better Jan. 14 than Dec. 14. First game, first appearance. I learned a lot of things and we’ll go back to practice next week and get ready for Murray state on Friday.”

The Cougars open the 2014-15 regular season on the road against Murray State at 7 p.m., Nov. 14, in Murray, Ky. They’ll return to Hofheinz Pavilion to face Morgan State on Nov. 22.

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