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Houston Turns One-Point Halftime Lead into 73-51 Senior Day Blowout

Kentrell Barkley and East Carolina fall in the road AAC finale 73-51 at Hofheinz Pavilion on Sunday.
Kentrell Barkley and East Carolina fall in the road AAC finale 73-51 at Hofheinz Pavilion on Sunday. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

It was the 537th and final game in historic Hofheinz Pavilion for the University of Houston who turned a one-point halftime lead into a 73-51 victory over East Carolina for Senior Day.

Rob Gray went 9 of 19 from the arc and scored a game high 24 points to go along with eleven points from Wes Vanbeck and eight points from Chicken Knowles for the Cougars.

Jeremy Sheppard scored 12 points while Kentrell Barkley and Deng Riak added eight points apiece for East Carolina who with the loss falls to 14-17 overall.

Andre Washington set the ECU single-season record for blocked shots with 92 on the season. That surpasses Moussa Badianne's old record of 90.

Houston outscored ECU 40-19 in the last twenty minutes of the game. The Cougars enjoyed a 47-31 advantage on the glass. ECU had just six assists and committed 12 second half turnovers, 16 overall to just 11 turnovers for Houston who had six seniors playing their last home game on Sunday.

“Rebounding was the difference in the game. Three-point shooting came as a result of second chance opportunities. They may have had four or five of those that they made off of offensive rebounds," said ECU interim head coach Michael Perry, "They were tougher than us tonight. You look at their roster and it’s made up of redshirt seniors, guys that were older and it was reflected in their play, their confidence and their grit. They were tougher than us in the second half.

It always comes down to the ability to hit shots and East Carolina has had their issues shooting the basketball on the road this season.

“I thought the team that was able to shoot the ball best from the three-point line would be successful tonight. Obviously it wasn’t our night. We were 5 for 21, obviously we didn’t shoot the ball well from three,” said Perry, “We got behind and started having to extend our defensive a little more and Gray took advantage of that with his speed and quickness that really hurt us.”

The two teams traded baskets in the first twelve minutes of the game. Both Kentrell Barkley for the Pirates and Chicken Knowles for Houston scored from inside and at the charity stripe in a 14-13 ECU contest at the 8:30 mark of the first half. Two Wes Vanbeck three-pointers helped Houston open a three-point 19-16 lead.

A pair of Deng Riak buckets in the paint helped ECU to pull to within one and a Barkley clean up of a B.J. Tyson miss in transition helped the Pirates regain a 22-21 lead with 5:12 to play in the period.

Jeremy Sheppard’s walk off trey at the buzzer and eight first half points helped keep ECU within one point in a 33-32 going into the locker room. Dang Riak added eight more and Wes Vanbeck for Houston also had eight points in the first twenty minutes of play.

The Pirate had just four first half turnovers to six for Houston who hit just over 32 percent from the floor in the first half to 37.5 for ECU. Houston(21-9) went 7-7 from the stripe and hit 4 of 11 from the arc to just 3-13 for ECU at intermission.

That’s when the wheels fell off for East Carolina. Houston opened a quick six point 38-32 lead on jumpers from Vanbeck and Galen Robinson to open the second half.

“You’ve always got to take your hat off to another team’s defense when you don’t shoot the ball well. Houston had a hand in that. We had some good looks though, the guys were aggressive and attacking, but shots were not falling for us tonight. Caleb (White) had some good looks tonight but he went 1 for 7 from three.”

Rob Gray scored on three trips down the floor in the early going of the second half. A pair of Sheppard turnovers for ECU led to a Chicken Knowles baseline jumper with twelve minutes to go that gave the Cougars an eleven point 48-37 cushion.

Three more Gray baskets helped him eclipse the 1,000 career point mark. Devin Davis and Armoni Brooks then scored to add to the Houston lead that grew to 60-43 in a 27-13 second half Houston run with 6:24 to play.

Vanbeck’s jumper and a Nkali dunk, Rob Gray’s transition layup and an Armani Brooks trey from the left corner had the Cougars up by 21 at 70-49 with just a minute to play.

Damien Dotson’s three-pointer put the exclamation mark on Senior Day in Houston.

22 percent second half shooting and 32 percent overall including just 5 of 21 for just under 24 percent from the arc didn’t bode well for ECU’s chances to win on Sunday. Houston connected on 37.7 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the arc on 10 of 25 shooting in the victory.

The Pirates will remain in Houston for a couple of days of practice before flying to Connecticut for the AAC Tournament where ECU will take on Temple at 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon at the XL Center in Hartford.

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