It was a lagging start for No. 7 Houston on Saturday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a beginning that included the Cougars falling into an early five-point hole.
The start of the second half was something altogether different, with the Cougars (2-0) dunking their way through a decisive run that resulted in an 82-50 victory. Houston will try to recapture that energy when it hosts Stetson on Monday.
While senior guard L.J. Cryer nailed 3-pointers that first gave Houston a 14-point halftime lead and then a 20-point advantage early in the second half, it was the flurry of dunks that defined the Cougars’ intragame improvement.
From Ja’Vier Francis to J’Wan Roberts and Terrance Arceneaux, the Cougars’ brazen attacks on the rim turned the tide with haste. After shooting just 37.1 percent prior to the intermission, the Cougars ensured superior production by taking shots as close to the rim as physically possible.
“You liked that start of the second half, didn’t you?” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson asked a member of the media following the victory. “I did too.”
The opening moments of the game showcased the trials that come with near-wholesale rotation changes. While the Cougars returned six letterwinners from their 33-win, Sweet 16 squad of a year ago, only two starters are back for Houston: guard Jamal Shead and Roberts.
While Houston certainly doesn’t qualify as inexperienced, those asked to fill the void of the departed players are taking on much larger roles and greater responsibilities. With that comes some uneven moments, as the new Cougars work to develop chemistry with the old ones.
That requires a meshing between transfers Damian Dunn (Temple) and Cryer (Baylor) and former role players now in the forefront: Emanuel Sharp, Ramon Walker Jr., Arceneaux and Francis. Shead and Roberts will be asked to ease the transition, but the first half against the Islanders provided a reminder that there will be some bumpy roads as the Cougars jell.
The Cougars were an experienced bunch last year, with veterans Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark and Reggie Chaney providing stability in moments of crisis. When Houston encounters similar adversity this season, others will have to step forward to make sure the Cougars continue to thrive.
“Those guys look different than this team does,” Sampson said. “This team is going to have a lot of sluggish moments. We’re going to have a lot of moments where we don’t look that good. That’s part of it until you do.
“You don’t start off in November by playing March basketball. This is November basketball; it’s just the way it works.”
Stetson suffered a 71-55 loss at UNLV on Saturday. The Hatters (1-1) trailed by as many as 26 points in the second half and shot 31.8 percent overall, including 22.6 percent from the 3-point arc.
Junior guard Jalen Blackmon paced Stetson with 18 points and grabbed four rebounds. Junior center Aubin Gateretse added 16 points with a team-high-tying eight rebounds for the Hatters.
Stetson went 17-14 last season for its first winning season since going 17-12 in 2000-01.
“Just to get that stigma off our back to have a winning season was huge for us,” fifth-year Stetson coach Donnie Jones recently told ASUN Game Day. “Building from that and coming into this fall was huge for us.”
Stetson and Houston are meeting for the first time.
–Field Level Media
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