Even with all the new faces, the Houston Cougars had great expectations following the program’s first Final Four appearance in 37 years. In truth, those expectations were unfair.
The Cougars have performed exceptionally in the early stages of this season, with No. 15 Houston (7-1) producing a 111-44 home victory over Bryant last Friday that tied for the third-largest margin of victory in program history.
The Cougars will host Alcorn State (1-6) on Monday and, in all likelihood, will record a third consecutive blowout triumph.
The results don’t minimize the uncertainty that the Cougars faced entering this season. Their roster turned over significantly, and the Cougars were relying on a number of transfers to fill the voids left by a handful of veterans who paved the way to the national semifinal last season.
“We’re just so new to each other,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “It’s like the Hofstra game (the Cougars’ season opener). I heard some people say you didn’t play good. It’s not about playing good or bad. It’s getting out there and playing. No matter who we played that night it would have probably looked like that. That’s not taking anything away from Hofstra.
“It takes you a while to get adjusted. We tried to flatten the learning curve out by practicing the right way. There’s a big difference between playing hard and competing. We’ve always tried to teach our kids the difference between those two things.”
A trio of transfers continues to help the Cougars round into form. Senior guard Kyler Edwards (Texas Tech) recorded a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds against Bryant and is second on the team in scoring (13.1 points) and rebounding (5.8 per game).
Graduate transfer Taze Moore (Cal State Bakersfield) had seven points and four assists without a turnover against Bryant, and his athleticism has been a boon to the Cougars’ second unit. Another grad transfer, Josh Carlton (UConn) posted a season-high 17 points and six rebounds in the blowout victory. As the Cougars continue to jell, the newcomers will play a critical role.
“A month ago these guys had never played in a uniform for us,” Sampson said. “Now we’re (eight) games in and I just think over the next two or three weeks we’ll continue to get better.
“We’re not a great team; I know what great teams look like. We’re a team that’s still getting better.”
Alcorn State is coming off an 85-64 loss at Tulane last Saturday during which it posted a plus-10 rebounding margin yet forced just seven turnovers while shooting 36.7 percent, missing 17 of 24 3-pointers. The Braves have yet to play at home, their lone win coming at Milwaukee on Nov. 28.
Lenell Henry leads the Braves in scoring (8.0 points) and rebounding (7.4 per game), but four others are averaging at least seven points per game.
–Field Level Media