ECU Falls to Houston 69-59
(21)Houston had a little better shooting night than ECU but only slightly and as a result the Cougars managed to keep the Pirates at bay long enough to snag a 69-59 AAC victory Wednesday night in Minges Coliseum.
Jayden Gardner did the bulk of the damage for ECU scoring 29 points and pulling down 19 rebounds while Tristen Newton and J.J. Miles added eight points apiece.
Caleb Mills led the Cougars with 18 points and six assists to go along with 15 points from Quentin Grimes and a double-double of ten points and ten rebounds from Chris Harris.
With the win, Houston improved to 17-4 and 7-1 in AAC play in picking up their fifth straight win. The Cougars have lost only once in the month of January after going undefeated in December. The still developing Pirate ball club fell to 9-12 with the loss and 3-5 in league play.
“You've just got to make shots at the end of the day. It just happens that quick. The last game we were hot. This game we were cold,” Gardner said, “We've just got to be consistent. Credit to them they're really tough, they're long, they challenge the shots and they get after it. Unfortunately we have those games. It's all or nothing. It's all going one night or it's not going at all. We don't have no medium right now. We need to find that medium."
ECU made just 37 percent from the floor, but the good thing for the Pirates was Houston made just under 40 percent or things could have really got out of hand. ECU made just 4 of 23 from long range for a paltry 17.4 percent while both teams shot at a sub seventy percent clip from the charity stripe.
It wasn't the Pirates' finest hour and on Joe Dooley's birthday no less, but it was the kind of night that in past years could have turned really ugly on the scoreboard. With the exception of Gardner, the rest of the team did not put in their best scoring performance despite their best efforts but Dooley wasn't buying the benefit of moral victories afterward.
"I think the only one who can take your confidence is yourself, so we've got to be mature and tough enough that when things don't go right that you continue to play," Dooley told PI, "You worry about playing right and getting better. You look around the country and some of the scores you can't understand, so I don't know if we read too much into that stuff."
“I think one thing when you play Houston they're not going to help you so you better help yourself because they're not going to give you anything. Some of the things we needed to do we did. Some of the things we needed to do to help ourselves, we didn't. In the first half it was layups and free throws,” said Dooley, “Obviously when you throw in 4 for 20 from the three-point line, you didn't do enough to help yourself and there's no margin for error against them, so if you don't do some of those things you're not going to be able to win the game. I thought for a stretch Mills took over and I thought Harris had a really good game. They're so balanced, they can hurt you a lot of different ways."
Veteran Houston coach Kelvin Sampson ranted and raved about Gardner's abilities for ECU and said none of their game planning seamed to affect it.
“I just love Jayden Gardner. That kid, you could just take a stamp and put winner on him. That's what he is. He's just a winner,” Sampson said, "There's a lot of ways to evaluate rebounders, but he just has a lot of intangibles. Guys who can't rebound, they're usually not where the ball is. Wherever the ball is, that's usually where Jayden Gardner is."
"We were the number one rebounding team in the nation coming in here. You think about it. We won at Wichita State, we won at South Carolina, we won the tournament in Hawaii beating Georgia Tech, Washington - we've played against a lot of teams," Sampson said, "But Gardner is the best player we've played against. We've played against nobody that is more difficult because you don't know who to put on him. We came in with a brilliant game plan and we threw that out in three minutes. That one didn't work. So we said let's go to this. That one didn't work either. He's tough. He's a really good player."
The game proved to be a little disjointed shooting wise for both teams yet Houston found ways to be effective anyway.
Winning as much as the Cougars do just begets more winning.
"It was unorthodox to you because you haven't seen it. It may be the norm to me," Sampson told PirateIllustrated.com, “I've watched us have a lot of those shooting nights. That's the way we shoot it. We're not a good shooting team. That's why you better play fetch on them offensive boards. I tell them every time we shoot it, it's an opportunity to offensive rebound but it was hard for us to get them because of Jayden Gardner. He was getting them all. I love that kid. He's good."
The Pirates led for the first six minutes of the game before a Quentin Grimes trey gave Houston their first lead of the game at the 12:32 mark of the half.
Grimes was at it again with a made bucket with just over eight minutes to go in the half as the Cougars maintained a four-point 16-11 cushion.
A pair of Jayden Gardner baskets kept ECU close until a Caleb Mills corner trey extended the Houston lead to six at 21-15. Then Gardner’s only trey of the game from the top of the key followed by another Gardner bucket for his 16th point of the half on the next possession cut the Cougar lead to one.
But Grimes was at it again from long range before two Caleb Mills free throws, two Harris baskets and two Grimes free throws for his tenth point of the period expanded Houston’s halftime lead to 33-21.
J.J. Miles’ midrange jumper briefly cut the Houston lead to nine and a couple of possessions later, Brandon Suggs’ three-pointer eventually whittled the lead to eight at 46-38 with 11:43 to play.
But more than anything it was ECU’s inability to convert baskets over the course of the next couple of minutes and Houston’s ability to make the Pirates pay at the other end of the court that quickly expanded the lead to 50-38. Then the Cougar lead grew to 19 with 6:30 to play on a Brison Gresham dunk.
Gardner’s three-point play in the paint with 2:54 to go got ECU back to within eleven at 64-53 and two Newton free throws and his subsequent three-point jumper had ECU to within ten at 67-57 with less than two minutes to play. Both teams scored once more for the final ten point margin of victory.