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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Men's Basketball

Cougars continue hot start, stay undefeated with win


Head coach Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars are off to a hot start this season, as they are  5-0. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The Cougars stormed to their fifth win of the season with a 93-78 win over the Murray State University

Racers. Led by sophomore guard Rob Gray Jr. and junior guard Ronnie Johnson, the Cougars stepped on the throttle and never let off.

“Our team is getting better,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Tonight we did a lot of things well. It doesn’t mean we have a great team. I just think right now, we’re a team that’s evolving. We’re in the process of trying to get better.”

The first half ended with Houston leading 51-35. Houston started with a hot hand as it made 65.6 percent of its field goals in the half. It also made six of its 10 shots from behind the three-point line.

Defense was a key factor early as Houston forced six turnovers in the first half. It also had six blocks and three steals. The Cougars allowed nine offensive rebounds in the first, but those resulted in only seven Murray State second-chance points.

“I thought our defense was good,” Sampson said. “We fouled a little bit too much, but our defense was good both halves. The difference for us was turnovers. We turned the ball over too much and that’s a little bit out of character for both teams. If you take away the turnovers, they probably have 10 or 12 points less than what they had.”

At the half, senior forward Devonta Pollard had 10 points, one block and a steal. Johnson had eight points, two assists and a steal. Gray had 18 points and a steal on eight of 11 shooting, two of which from behind three-point line.

The second half was more of the same as the Cougars continued to lock down on defense and create open shots on offense. After a short Murray State-run coming out of the half, Houston dominated throughout the second.

The Cougars ended the game with 10 forced turnovers, six blocks and six steals.

Offensively, Gray finished with 26 points, two assists and two steals. Ronnie Johnson finished with 17 points, two rebounds and two assists. Freshman guard Galen Robinson Jr. went for 13 points and five assists.

“Last game I didn’t shoot such a good percentage so this game I just tried to let the flow of the game come to me and not take bad shots,” Gray said. “I especially wanted to make my first couple of shots just to make sure they were good shots. I just did a good job of doing what coach tells me and let the game come to me.”

Houston’s field goal percentage in the second period decreased to 61.1 percent, but finished with a 64.0 percent field goal percentage. Three point percentage increased drastically to 80 percent and finished at 66.7 percent.

Overall free throw percentage was 82.6 percent. Sampson said the point guard position is still up for grabs. He likes what he sees from both Johnson and Robinson and is comfortable closing the game with either guard.

“We’re fortunate that we have two good point guards and we can close games with them,” Sampson said. “Ronnie is the starting point and usually you just bring in the back-up point guard, but we have two starting point guards. They play in place of each other but they also play together, and that’s a luxury.”

The Cougars hope to go for their sixth win of the season against the University of Rhode Island Rams next Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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