Photo courtesy UH
But the beauty of the win wasn't important.
"What's more important, is that we got the win," senior guard Kelvin Lewis told Hair Balls. "Corpus Christi is a good team. They've got them picked to win their division...They brought it today, and we were a little sluggish at the beginning, but we pulled it out."
Tom Penders called the Islanders a dangerous team that the Cougars were lucky to have defeated. Now he's pointing the team toward the rest of the month as he attempts to guide them through what he considers to be a rough non-conference schedule including Mississippi State and TCU. And one of the things he's still trying to do is to figure out a rotation of players.
"I'm paid to win basketball games, too," Penders said about the puzzle he's attempting to piece together. "I can't worry about minutes at this point. I've got to go with the five guys I feel will give us the best opportunity."
On Sunday, those five players generally consisted of four guards and a big man as he decided not to fight a battle for rebounds, but instead decided to go to an aggressive attack disrupting the Corpus Christ passing lanes and breaking up the rhythm of their offense.
"When we have the four guards, we're lean, quick everywhere, we're a problem for teams," said Lewis. "And that's where we start to get our leads on defense. Putting the pressure on them full court."
The three primary guards of that alignment were Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, and junior-college transfer Adam Brown. Brown got only five minutes in the team's opening game against Nicholls State, but he's hustled his way into consistent playing time as part of what he has dubbed the three-headed monster -- him, Coleman, and Lewis. And on Sunday, that three-headed monster contributed 65 of the team's 83 points.
"I fit well with Aubrey and [Kelvin] on the court, as far as the three-headed monster on the floor," Brown said. "I feel like we all have a bond. And we all want to win. That's the most important thing of a team, that you have to want to win."
Penders knows he's not going to be able to get away with a four guards on the floor lineup for most of the season. But the lineup worked, and he's going to use it while he works on getting Kirk Van Slyke, Maurice McNeil, and Kendrick Washington adjusted to playing big minutes and a rougher, tougher game of basketball than to what they were used to in high school and junior college. He's primarily playing eight players now, but he wants to have a ten-man rotation set by the time C-USA play rolls around next month.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The three-headed monsters think the trip to Alaska helped the team bond and to grow closer because, as Coleman said, when the fans are all against you, "it's only just us players on the floor. We had to come together...on the road. That's how we have to play, as a team."
And Penders said he took the trip to Alaska solely for the purpose of playing Oklahoma, who the Cougars decisively defeated in the first game of that tournament.
"We went to Alaska to play Oklahoma, period," he said. "We wouldn't have gone to the Alaska Shootout just to see salmon and whales. We went there and said if you'll let us play Oklahoma in the first round, we'll go. You can make us play three games in a row. You can make us play at midnight or six in the morning, whatever, Oklahoma will not play us home-and-home. We need to play quality opponents. We went up to Alaska to play them."
The 5-2 Cougars next play the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt Conference at Hofheinz Pavilion on Monday night. Penders knows that some of the fans are dismissive of Troy. He disagrees, noting that they just defeated a tough Auburn team, in Auburn. Meanwhile, he's trying to figure out his team's practice schedule as his players juggle papers, studying, and final exams.