Cougars Keep Stumbling, Fans Don't Seem To Care

If there were such a thing as justice in this world, then there would have been no winner to Saturday's Houston/Southern Mississippi basketball game. Unfortunately, the rules of basketball dictate that there must be a winner, thus Southern Mississippi's Torye Pelham tipped in the ball as the buzzer sounded to give the Golden Eagles the 57-55 come-from-behind win.

But this was truly a game that nobody deserved to win. The Cougars limped out to an early 11-0 win, but scored just 18 points for the remainder of the first half. Luckily, the Golden Eagles sucked even worse from the floor and the halftime score was a blistering 29-21 Cougars.

The Cougars benefited from Southern Mississippi's 30-percent first-half shooting, though the Cougars really weren't much better, hitting just 40 percent of their shots. Then again, the Cougars would have been thrilled to shoot 40 percent from the floor in the second half. Hell, if they could have shot 30 percent from the floor they might have gotten the win.

But this is the Houston Cougars of which we're speaking.

Southern Mississippi finally grabbed the lead with nine minutes remaining in the game, and the Cougars were done. Done.

The Cougars continued with a troubling habit. Well, they continued with several troubling habits. They got a big lead and they gave it up. They couldn't hit shots from the floor. They couldn't make foul shots. That's a combination for losing basketball, and no matter how much talent a team might have, most teams just can't overcome that combination.

"It's, I thought we had a lot of nice open looks and missed," head coach Tom Penders said. "You try not to, as a coach, draw too much attention to that [missing open shots] because the kids, I think, have a tendency to get tighter and tighter. You want them taking their shots. And I thought today, for the most part, we took some really good shots. We missed too many put backs in tight, close to the basket, which obviously didn't help us at all."

Despite everything, the Cougars could have won this game. But the Cougars missed five free throws in the second half, including Desmond Wade missing one of two with 31.3 seconds left that would have given the Cougars the lead. Instead, the game was tied at 55-55, making the last second heroics of Pelham possible.

The game-winner came off of a mistake. Maurice McNeil tripped and fell into Aubrey Coleman as a pass was coming down toward Pelham. Coleman and McNeil were both confident that if not for the trip, then Coleman gets the ball. Instead he tips it to Pelham who misses the lay-up. But with the second clock in the fractions, Pelham went back up and tipped the ball where it rolled around the rim as the horn sounded before falling through the netting.

The referees had to gather at the press table to review the play, but the Cougar loss was clearly evident even before the Golden Eagles went storming off of the court jumping and celebrating.

"We were hoping that it didn't count....," a subdued Coleman said afterwards. But "it came down to that right there [the team missing free throws in the second half.]"

he Cougars finished the game shooting only 32.3 percent, including 14.3 percent (two for 14) from three-point range. And they were a pitiful 13 for 22 from the free throw line.

They could have won the game. In many ways, they should have won the game. But they didn't really deserve to win the game. Not playing the way did.

The Cougars record dropped to 11-11 on the season and 4-5 in conference. And a season that began with promise is quickly deteriorating into great disappointment.

There are only eight regular season games remaining -- only three of which are at home, though judging from the lack of a crowd on Saturday, it's pretty damn evident that no one outside the basketball team really gives a damn.

Coleman and Penders said the right things after the game. That the team focus is on gaining momentum for the conference tournament. The tournament being important because the only team from C-USA going into the NCAA tournament will be the one that wins the C-USA tournament.

This just all goes to show that if there were any justice in the world, no team from C-USA would get into the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the rules dictate that the winner of every conference tournament gets into the tourney. The Cougars play a non-conference game against Western Kentucky on Tuesday, then return to Hofheinz Pavilion to play SMU on Saturday afternoon.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal