A glance at the box score from last night's 75-65 Cougar win over the UTEP Miners might make one think that the key to victory was Kelvin Lewis nailing three three-pointers on his way to 13 points and 10 rebounds. Or maybe Maurice McNeil roaming the paint for 12 points and 10 rebounds. Or Aubrey Coleman's game-high 22 points.
But the players would disagree.
To the players, the key to the team's win was forward Sean Coleman.
Coleman only scored six points and got only three rebounds in his 20 minutes of game time. But it wasn't what he did on the court that was so important. It was what he did on Tuesday night when he called a players-only meeting and made them realize what they were all supposed to be doing.
"We just had to refocus, and remember what we were playing for, the win," Aubrey Coleman said. And in a two-hour meeting, they were reminded that the little things, hitting free throws, diving for loose balls, minimizing mistakes were the keys to victory. They took the responsibility on themselves to win the game, to close out. Staying close and staying competitive, which they've done in most games, wasn't good enough anymore.
"Sean Coleman, he took the meeting into his own hands," McNeil said. "He said the game was real big. He was a real big leader yesterday. Everybody just opened up."
"He's one of the three captains. It's me, Aubrey, and Sean," Kelvin Lewis said. "It might not, at times, show that on the court. But he's a leader on-and-off the court."
The team took Coleman's advice and they focused on the little things, particularly the free throws, where they went 18 for 24. And Kelvin Lewis went into the land of the big men to get his first career double-double as he grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.
The team also played a defense that consisted of tight man-to-man play on UTEP guards and a switching-type zone on the UTEP big men which confused the Miners for most of the game. McNeil said the key to the defense was he and Coleman helping out on the other's man when that player had the ball.
The game was never safe. The Cougars went out on runs on several occasions, leading by 13 at the half and going up by as much as 14 several times in the second half. But whenever the Cougars would start to pull away, UTEP would find a way to get back into the game, getting as close as 68-61 with a little over two minutes remaining in the game.
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"I kept looking up at the clock and I said they must not being adding their [UTEP] points, or something, because I didn't think we were up nine when we were," head coach Tom Penders said. "I kept thinking five in my head."
But the UH defense came through against what Penders felt was one of the more difficult offenses in C-USA to stop. "They're a tough team to defend," he said. "They've got great inside and outside balance."
So following Sean Coleman's lead, the Cougars did the big and the little things and got the victory over a team that was supposed to be one of the league powers. But a win which the team says it's not going to enjoy because now they've got to prepare for a game at East Carolina in East Carolina on Saturday.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Cougars record improved to 9-7 (2-1) with the win while UTEP is now 10-5 (1-1)....For those of you who are curious, there were no fans ejected from the building last night, though a technical was called on the UTEP bench in the second half....To go along with Kelvin Lewis' double-double, Maurice McNeil got his third double-double of the season with his 12 points and 10 boards....Early in the game, Aubrey Coleman hit a three-pointer to give him 1,001 points in his UH career, making him the 43rd Cougar in school history to reach that milestone. "I really didn't know," Coleman said when told of the milestone. "I don't know. I can't worry about that. I've got to continue to play. I've got to continue to do what I do every night and get the win, because that's what -- that's what it's about. You can score a thousand points, but if you're losing, nobody recognizes it."