All that it took for the Houston Cougars to recover from their last-minute loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon was a phone call and a little trap. And recover the team did nicely, defeating The Citadel last night 81-58.
The phone call in question was placed by one Maurice McNeil, forward, to one Tom Penders, head coach, on Saturday night following the team's loss. McNeil wanted to know why he didn't play more in that game. And Penders was happy to supply the answer.
"We have a great relationship," Penders said of him and McNeil. "He calls me, and I call him. We talk a lot. He's a New York kid....I just told him, the type of game it was the other night, Mo, I thought that [Kahmell Broughton] was playing better than you played when you were out there. But if you'll rebound, then you put me in a position where I can't take you out. And tonight he was really focused on rebounding."
Focused McNeil was, grabbing a season- and career-high 16 rebounds to go along with his nine points. And McNeil was pleased with his how his phone call turned out.
"I just was ready to play," he said. "Against Mississippi State I thought I was ready, too, and Coach Penders only played me eight minutes. So I called him after the game, I was like I thought I was ready to play, and I thought I was playing decent in the first half, so why didn't I play? And then he just said he'll make it up to me next game, he just wanted to rotate a couple of people, and then he played me 30-something minutes. I just took advantage of that."
Though the margin of victory was rather wide, this was a game that worried Penders, and the worrying probably wasn't helped by the Cougars going 1-for-7 from the floor for the first five minutes of the game. But then the offense got going, led again by Aubrey Coleman -- who finished with 26 points after rediscovering how to shoot his free throws -- and with assistance from Kelvin Lewis (20 points) and Adam Brown (17 points).
Once the offense got revved up, there was no stopping the team as they pulled out to a 22-4 lead at one point in the first half and went to the locker room ahead 38-23. The second half found the offense even more dominating and the question was never whether The Citadel would make a game of it, but whether Citadel could keep the margin of victory within 20 points, which they almost did with the 81-58 final.
Brown, who went 1-for-11 from the floor on Saturday, rediscovered his shooting touch and went 6-for-9 in this game, a game in which he had to come off of the bench. But he said afterward that he liked coming off of the bench as that gave him better insight into the flow of the game and let him know where best to assist his teammates once he was out there.
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But the big key to the victory over The Citadel came from the Cougars going to a trapping defense that Penders said he's been holding back on using because he wanted to use it at just the right time. Playing a team that uses a speeded-up version of the Princeton offense was, he thought, the ideal time to spring the trap. It was a move with which the players agreed, and it's a defense they hope to use more often. It's a defense, however, which depends on speed and quickness, and it's not a defense that Penders can use when certain groupings of players are out on the floor.
"Certain people have to be out on the floor..." Penders said. "You can get away with one [big guy], but you can't do it maybe with two guys who aren't real quick. We have some great quickness on this team."
That great quickness will be tested again tomorrow night when the Cougars host TCU at 7 p.m. But hopefully, the players won't need to make any phone calls to Penders.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
TCU is coached by Jim Christian who is in his second year at the school. Prior to coming to TCU, he coached six seasons at Kent State and led them to two NCAA tournament appearances. Christian was also the point guard for the Tom Penders Rhode Island team that made the Sweet Sixteen in 1998....Aubrey Coleman got his third double/double of the season (26 points, 10 rebounds), and it was the 17th of his career....After nine games, the Cougars record is now 6-3.