The Houston Cougars (7-5) don't play very good basketball in the first half. At 12 games into the season, that can be established as a fact. The players know it and admit it. The coaches know it and it admit it. It's something they say they're working on, but it's something they can't seem to get fixed.
It happened to the Cougars again last night. They were sloppy on the boards. Sloppy on defense. And they just appeared to be out-of-synch as Sam Houston State (6-4) took the lead and held onto it. But the score was only 40-37 in favor of the Bearkats at the half, and as anybody who has seen the Cougars play basketball this season can testify, no halftime lead is safe. Still the Cougars struggled throughout the second half and were down 45-39 after nearly three minutes of play. But then the Cougars kicked it all into gear and pulled even. Then fell behind, then pulled even, then fell behind, then pulled even. They finally grabbed the 69-67 lead on Adam Brown's three-pointer with 4:32 remaining in the game.
"It's always more exciting that way," Brown answered when questioned about the team's penchant for second half comebacks.
The Cougars would not surrender the lead for the rest of the night, but still the team struggled to put away from a Sam Houston team that just refused to lose the game. The Bearkats were able to tie the game at 73-73 with 41 seconds remaining. Following a UH timeout, the Cougars worked the clock until they found Kendrick Washington down low. Washington took the pass from Zamal Nixon and powered his way in for the lay-up with 12 seconds on the clock to give the Cougars the 75-73 win.
"It was a play we've been executing at practice," Washington said. "We've been doing it very well. And coach was really positive about the play. It was my chance, and he called my number. I just had to finish."
The Cougars wanted this win since this game was the final game before Christmas and they really wanted to enjoy their break. But along with being able to enjoy the short, they were trying to erase the bitter taste that came from having lost an overtime contest to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Saturday.
"It's huge," Brown said. "Any break you go into you don't want to go into with a bitter taste in your mouth. We also wanted to have confidence in our team that we could come back after the break and know the last time we were out there we won."
The Cougars are going to get a short break for the holidays, with head coach James Dickey letting the guys off until December 26, a break from his Texas Tech tradition when he held practice on Christmas night. But when the team comes back, they're going to be working on their defense as Dickey wasn't too pleased with the team's defensive effort last night, especially with their giving up 40 points at the half on their home court.
"I told them, when we come back, we've got to get better," Dickey said. "And we've got to get better on the defensive end. Overall, we have got to get better, but primarily on the defensive end."
He's happy with how the offense is working, and he says he sees improvement on that end - though he would prefer that Brown and Darian Thibodeaux take the ball to the glass more instead of settling for mid-range jumpers, and he wants the team working on free throw shooting. But the problem for him is with the defense, especially with conference play starting up right after the New Year begins.
"When you get to league play," he said. "Defense, rebounding, taking care of the ball, gives you a chance to win on the road. So those are areas that we're really going to concentrate on when we come back."
And coach, how about a favor? It's good that the team is winning, and you take wins in any fashion that you can get a win. But let's stop following the Houston Texans playbook. Let's come out and play a full 40 minutes for once. Who knows, if the team plays a full 40 minutes, the games might be a bit less dramatic, but then the wins might end up being a bit more guaranteed.
MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES: The Cougars next game is next Thursday when they host Rogers State. Conference USA play then starts with the Cougars going to Southern Miss to take on the Golden Eagles on January 5....Asked after the game, Dickey said that he would like to schedule Sam Houston State again in the future, and he also likes playing Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. That said, he also wants to get some bigger teams/names coming in next season so as to get some games on national television....Adam Brown finished with 21 points, for his fourth 20 point game of the season; Zamal Nixon led the team with 11 assists and Maurice McNeil led the team with nine rebounds.