No. 21 Houston Presents Great Challenges
Perhaps the hottest team in The American right now is the Houston. The Cougars check in at #21 in the nation at the moment in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll and are rising with a bullet.
Houston’s record improved to 16-4 and 6-1 in league play after a 68-49 Sunday win over South Florida led by DeJon Jarreau’s 12 points and 6 assists. Jarreau was one of three Cougars in double digits in the game with Caleb Mills and Fabian White both registering 11 points and 3 rebounds in the victory.
They out rebounded USF by five even though Houston did not shoot the ball extremely well at just 5 of 21 for 23.8 percent from the arc and 41.7 percent overall. That statistic might be masked a bit by the fact that they got fouled on a number of those shots where the Cougars took advantage, making 13 of 16. Keeping Houston off of the glass is going to be a task and a vital one if ECU hopes to make a game of it.
“It’s a major concern, 14 rebounds a game,” said ECU head coach Joe Dooley, “It translates into about 14 points a game for them. They’re averaging 68 or 69 points a game in league play so that’s a big percentage of their points.”
Chris Harris played 28 minutes and was effective, making 4 of 5 from the field, scoring nine points and leading Houston on the glass with eight rebounds. Marcus Sasser made a pair of long bombs and added seven points to the total.
The Cougars only made nine turnovers, a statistic that will help win a lot of games, while forcing 14 USF miscues in their latest game.
Houston overall is making 33.8 percent of their three-point attempts and just over 43 percent of their shots overall. The Cougars are also pulling down six more rebounds a game than the Pirates heading into ECU game on Wednesday night in Minges Coliseum.
Joe Dooley knows that in order to win, his team will have to do a good job of both defending the arc, getting rebounds and making their fair share of shots from three-point range on their end of the court.
“As we build this program, every win is big. It would obviously be huge to beat Houston or any of these teams,” Dooley told PirateIllustrated.com before practice on Tuesday, “We’re trying to figure this thing out and build it with these young guys.”
The Pirates are averaging five points less per game than Houston at 69.4 points a game on 42.2 percent shooting and just over 29 percent from the arc. What ECU has done well is get to the stripe and when they do, the Pirates check in at nearly 72 percent.
So if you’re ECU, to win is going to require a blend of both getting in the paint and forcing fouls along with making enough shots both early and often to get the crowd heavily involved. If the Pirates can do that, they can potentially make a game of it.
“I’ve been in games where you get off to a fast start and you play terrible and I’ve been in games where you start terribly and you play great,” Dooley told PI, “So we’ll see how it flows. There is some confidence in seeing the ball go in the basket. I think it gives everybody energy. That’s what we’ve talked about. When it doesn’t go in, can you keep your energy and not let your defense bend.”
Dooley said that last year Houston was a final four type team and maybe shot it a little better than this year but they make up for it on the glass where they are better than before. PI asked Dooley what he does in this kind of situation to settle his team down before the game and early in the contest in an effort to try to get their best performance.
“I think you talk to the guys. It’s all a growing process and they’re going to have to learn how to play through some mistakes and get through some of these deals,” said Dooley who stated that with this much youth on the team, they have the luxury of staying on the floor even after making a mistake or two, “We’ve been on the road and played in some tough environments and played at home so I think it’s just familiarity and letting them play through some mistakes and just playing.”
“In order to have a great year, you’ve got to win your home games and that’s what we’re trying to do. To win we have to rebound the ball and we can’t turn it over.”
One of the hottest players on the Pirate team of late is J.J. Miles who last week tossed in 21 points in ECU’s win over Tulane. Miles launched in 7 of 9 from long range and gave the Pirates the kind of weapon that they will need in order to win on Wednesday.
“I saw the first two go in early. The crowd brought energy and gave me more confidence as I shot the ball. It’s important to win all of your home games so we’re going to continue to prepare for them today so we can come out with a win,” said Miles who told PI, “If we can get going early and bring good energy to the crowd and get into it early and get it going.”
“It’s good to have a home court advantage. I think we shoot very well at home and have more confidence at home when we’re in front of our fans. We just have to stay together and make sure we play hard and out work them and just communicate well. We see their size and they lead the nation in offensive rebounds so that’s an important factor in the game.”
The league’s leading scorer, Jayden Gardner checks in at 20.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game and once again will have to be at the forefront of ECU’s attempt to pull off the upset.
“It will be very exciting against another ranked team but this time at home so hopefully the fans can make a big impact and we can just go out there and play our hardest,” Gardner told PirateIllustrated.com, “It’s amazing. That’s what college basketball is all about. Being able to play ranked teams on our home court. Once the lights go on it’s about atmosphere and opportunity. We’ve got to make the best of it tomorrow night.”
Gardner outlined what ECU has to do to be successful Wednesday night.
“Us making shots at the end of the day. If we hit shots and we play defense and we box out, we’ll be in the game with anybody really,” said Gardner, “So we’ve just got to stick to our game plan.”
Game time is set for Wednesday night at 7 o’clock ET on ESPN 3.