Men's Basketball

Cougars protect home court in victory over Rice


Senior forward Mikhail McLean ignited the Cougars offense from off the bench as he racked up a career-high 14 points to help Houston take down Rice. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The Houston men’s basketball team snapped its eight-game losing streak after defeating the Owls 59-48 Wednesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion.

“Our kids really competed hard,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson.

“Our guys have been pretty consistent with that for a while now. We had to learn how to play hard; how to compete,” Sampson said. “Our focus on defense was outstanding for 40 minutes. They run a lot of unconventional stuff. We defended the three-point line well. We rebounded well, and then we took care of the ball.”

Senior forward Mikhail McLean brought spark from the bench, leading the Cougars with a career-high 14 points and added two rebounds and two assists. He says he took a different approach going into Wednesday’s game.

“I just played in the flow of the offense,” said McLean. “I decided to be more aggressive for once, and it paid off.”

Junior guard LeRon Barnes also contributed double-digits with 13 points, six rebounds and two steals, while defending Rice’s leading scorer Marcus Jackson.

“We were just a little more focused,” said Barnes. “We’ve been focusing in practice, and that carried over. Coming out of the half, we were just focused. We were ready to play for 40 minutes. That was the main thing; play for 40 minutes.”

Defense kept them in the game.

“Coach Alvin Brooks did a great job with the scouting report,” said Sampson.

“We came up with a plan on how to guard Marcus Jackson,” Sampson said. “LeRon (Barnes), we felt like the thing with him was not grabbing his three pointers; it was not giving him any… That team is hard to guard because of how unconventional they are. You have to have a plan. We had a good plan tonight and our guys really executed it.”

Sophomore forward Danrad Knowles scored 10 points, tying with junior forward Devonta Pollard for team-high honors with seven rebounds. Junior point guard L.J. Rose led the Cougars with seven assists and added eight points.

Not only was Sampson impressed with team play, but also with fan attendance.

“I’m not used to seeing people in sections,” said Sampson.

“I said ‘Wow, that’s a good look’, but you know what? Get used to it, because all the sections will be filled up eventually, and I know where this is headed,” Sampson said. “I know exactly where we are headed. This place is going to be packed. Mikhail, LeRon and all the kids on this year’s team, they’ll look back because they are the ones that put the first bricks in the building.”

The Cougars continue their four-game home stretch when they meet defending national champion and American Athletic Conference contender, UConn at 2 p.m. on Sunday, at Hofheinz Pavilion.

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