For UH, strong second half vs. Cleveland State fueled by its identity
At halftime of Friday night’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Cleveland State, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson was adamant about making sure his team understood that the first five minutes of the second half were going to be crucial to seal the door shut against the Vikings.
The Cougars had seen first-hand how resilient Cleveland State was in the first half, especially after senior guard DeJon Jarreau went out of the game in the opening minute.
While UH had built an early lead, the Vikings quickly rallied and gave the Cougars trouble with its defense and physical play. Even after UH had built up a double-digit lead, Cleveland State got right back in the game and only trailed by seven at the break.
“We had to hit them in the mouth first, and I feel like that is what we did,” junior guard Quentin Grimes told reporters after the game what the mood in the locker room was at halftime. “We got the lead and were able to play Cougar basketball (and) get stops that led to easy buckets.”
Once the second half started, the Cougars came out of the gates hitting on all cylinders. Jumpers from freshman guard Tramon Mark and a 3-pointer from junior guard Quentin Grimes put the exclamation point on a 12-2 run that put UH ahead by 18 within the first four minutes.
UH only kept building on the momentum from then on, leading by as much as 37 points at one time. It outscored Cleveland State 50-27 in the final period.
The Cougars relied heavily on their calling card on Friday – defense and rebounding – and a big chunk of it came from their big men, who played a key factor against the Vikings.
Senior forward Fabian White, who is still only nine games in since returning from his ACL injury, helped give UH an offensive spurt in the first half after Jarreau left the game. He finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds. Senior forward Justin Gorham had 10 points and four rebounds and junior forward Reggie Chaney had four blocks.
“I thought (the bigs) did a good job of controlling the backboards,” Sampson said. “We have our kids convinced that we are not going to beat many teams with our first shot, so we have to be a second or third-shot team. I think over time, that wears teams down and that can be demoralizing, especially in the second half.”
As a team, the Cougars outrebounded Cleveland State 20-12 in the second half, and for the game were able to track down 16 offensive rebounds compared to the Vikings’ eight. That, along with polishing its defense, is what Grimes attributed was behind the second-half outburst.
“It set the tone for the second half,” Grimes said. “Coach emphasized that some people on the team didn’t have any rebounds. (He) emphasized we weren’t getting the right switches. Defensively we had some mistakes that were on the scouting report.
“Once we corrected those, and people started getting locked in, getting super locked in, that’s when we started to take off in the second half.”
As for the New Orleans native guard, Sampson said, he is dealing with a hip pointer injury and did not give a timetable for when Jarreau might be on the court again. The Cougars play again on Sunday.
Grimes was a bit more favorable in regards to the injury and said Jarreau was doing well after the contest.
While his status for the upcoming game is unknown, the impact Jarreau has on the team was on full display both on and off the court.
After Jarreau went to the sidelines, the Cougars struggled early in the first half to find an offensive rhythm and even looked discombobulated during stretches.
“Our kids were a little bit nervy, maybe staggered even when DeJon Jarreau went down,” Sampson said. “He is not only our starting point guard, but he is our leader. Our emotional leader (and) a leader on the floor. (He) does a lot of things for this team.
“ … When DeJon went down, we went from being a veteran team to a young team.”
Despite not checking into the game, the 6-foot-5-inch guard still made his presence felt as he shouted from UH’s bench throughout the entire game. Even once the final buzzer sounded, he still huddled up the team and rallied the Cougars before they left the court.
“What you saw with DeJon tells you a little bit about the respect he has for his teammates and vice versa,” Sampson said. “DeJon has no ego, and I think that is one of the great attributes about this group. They don’t really care about who gets the glory or who scores the points. They’ve become a really good team. It’s a blessing for me to be able to coach this group.”
For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.