Men's Basketball

Cougars end season on high note in win over Pirates

Junior forward Devonta Pollard led the Cougars' offense in Sunday's game with 18 points and grabbed a double-double with 1o rebounds.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Junior forward Devonta Pollard picked up another double-double in the Cougars’ 72-54 win over the Pirates after he scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. | File Photo/The Cougar

A lack of conference wins and failure to translate first-half momentum into the second half plagued the men’s basketball team throughout the season, but the Cougars proved it’s never too late to get the monkey off of their back and prove critics wrong.

They did so for the third-straight time in their 72-54 win over East Carolina Sunday.

“We’re playing our best basketball of the year right now,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “That’s an encouraging sign as we head into next year. We knew that this was going to be a process. We lost some games earlier in the year that I didn’t mind losing because I knew I had a bigger picture in my mind. I don’t live in a small picture world. I’ve been doing this for so long, that I knew what I wanted this team to look like.”

It was a complete team effort with junior guard Jherrod Stiggers scoring 17 points, junior forward Devonta Pollard scoring 14 with 11 rebounds and junior guard LeRon Barnes and freshman guard Wes VanBeck adding 14 and 10 to defeat the Pirates.

“We play hard, we compete, we rebound and we defend,” said Sampson. “It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we have a very good culture with our program now in terms of how we practice, how we behave, and how we treat each other. We have an identity. When people think of Houston basketball, they think of what we want them to think of. We’re tough and we play hard. When you have that you have something special.”

Although without junior point guard L.J. Rose, the Cougars have managed to reel in three conference wins back to back, with Stiggers starting at the point, whom Sampson once said he hoped to never have to start at the point again.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity,” said Stiggers. “At the Temple game, Coach told us that there are a lot of teams that quit this time of year. So, he challenged us all to play our roles and just play hard. I’m proud of my teammates.”

The team has been able to make adjustments and continue attacking while incorporating the team’s two freshmen, JC Washington and Wes VanBeck, who have been able to add a spark off the bench and make Houston to be what Sampson said is the mark of a good team.

“Sometimes when you’re taking over a program, you’re fighting so many bad habits. You have to stay the course,” Sampson said. “This whole year has been a process for us. We’ve had defections, kids quitting, transferring, injuries (— you name it. We’re down to seven scholarship guys, but look at us. We’re special to ourselves, and that’s what counts.”

The 10-seed Cougars look to extend their season as they face seventh-seed Tulane on Thursday in the first round of the ACC championship play at 6 p.m. in Hartford, CT on ESPNews.

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  • The picture accompanying this story is not from the East Carolina game. (Appears to be from the USF game.)

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