Conference USA – Opening Round, Afternoon Session
(7) Houston 93, (10) East Carolina 80
Cinderella was nowhere to be found at the BOK Center this afternoon, as higher-seeded Houston won its first round games with relative ease. The Cougars put a 93-80 licking on the East Carolina Pirates in a game that got way out of hand in the second half, as Tom Penders’ side opened up a 23-point lead on the overmatched Pirates with more than 10 minutes left to play in the second half. That Houston’s margin of victory wasn’t 30 or so points is due entirely to Penders emptying his bench at about the 10-minute mark, and witnessing said benchwarmers blow most of that lead. Penders was forced to reinsert his starters, and Aubrey Coleman and Company restored order, keeping the Pirates at bay - or is it sea? - until the final whistle.
While the opening scrap wasn’t that close, at least it was a fast-paced and entertaining affair.
The Big Picture: High-octane Cougars, sparked by guard Aubrey Coleman’s 29 points, threatened to run the Pirates right out of Tulsa on their way to a relatively easy opening round win. Tom Penders’ squad doesn’t have much time to savor its impressive display of firepower today, as the defending C-USA champion Memphis Tigers are lying in wait.
The Good: What more can senior guard Aubrey Coleman, the nation's leading scorer, do to cap his final campaign as a Cougar? If this afternoon's game is any indication, Coleman is going to finish off his collegiate career in style by lighting up opponents in the C-USA Tournament. Sure, East Carolina doesn't pose the stiffest defensive test in all of C-USA, but Coleman was still very impressive today. He made 4-of-6 3-point bombs, and went 7-of-11 from the charity stripe in reaching 29 points. As if that weren't enough, the Cougars' top gunslinger also dished out 5 dimes and had but a single turnover all game.
Speaking of turnovers, Houston finished the game with only five, as compared to 19 assists. Any coach in the country would take those numbers in a conference tournament game.
The Bad: In order for the Pirates to have won today, they needed to avoid turning the ball over and keep the Cougars from converting those turnovers into points. They didn't do that at all today. Fourteen East Carolina turnovers became 18 Houston points. That made things too easy for Houston.
The Ugly: Yes, Houston's pressing and trapping can create problems for even the best of ballhandlers. Yes, when Houston dictates tempo, it speeds up the game and decision-making process, which can lead to turnovers. But still, East Carolina's junior point guard Brock Young is both experienced and skilled. He may have led the Pirates in scoring with 24 points, but the six turnovers were killers, especially since Young finished with five dimes.
Next: East Carolina commences a coaching search since current headman Mack McCarthy is moving into an administration job while Houston moves on to the C-USA quarterfinals. The Cougars' quarterfinal go-round with Memphis should be one of the more entertaining games played in any conference tourney this March. Coleman and Company thrashed the Tigers 92-75 the last time the two teams met. However, Memphis won the first game by a nearly identical score, 92-77, back in late January.