CINCINNATI – After watching TCU and Louisville combine for 196 points, the Houston-ECU game closely resembled a 100-yard dash between two snails – each pulling a 10-pound weight.Houston’s Louis Truscott scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half as the Cougars overcame a 26-25 halftime deficit to defeat ECU 58-49 in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament Wednesday.
“We knew we were going to face an excellent 2-3 zone defense and we threw our entire playbook at them in the first half,” coach Ray McCallum said. “In the second half I thought our guys did an excellent job of attacking the middle (of the zone).”
What the Houston-ECU game lacked in pace, it made up for in competitiveness. The second half featured seven lead changes and four ties with neither team gaining control until a 9-0 Houston run, started by a Truscott dunk with 9:28 remaining that made the score 41-40 and gave the Cougars a lead they would not relinquish.
ECU was the catalyst for the beginning of a very difficult week for McCallum and his players the last time these teams met. The Pirates walloped Houston 63-46 Feb. 23 and then McCallum suspended Louis Oliver, Dominic Smith, Kevin Gaines and Truscott for violating team rules. Houston then lost to USF 88-57 Feb. 26 before rebounding in the season finale to beat UAB.
“I don’t wish a coach to go through a week like that at all,” McCallum said. “It’s been a process with our team from a mental standpoint to bond together.”
Houston shot 46 percent and was able to hold the Pirates to a dismal 30 percent from the field, thanks in part to giving ECU a taste of its own medicine.
“We didn’t do a good job offensively against their zone and I think that really was the difference,” ECU coach Bill Herrion said.
“Our (2-3) zone has won games for us and today it kind of flipped over and beat us.”
A 13-0 run gave ECU control early, turning a 5-4 deficit into a 17-5 advantage. The Cougars were 0-of-11 during that stretch, going almost eight and a half minutes without a basket. But Houston chipped away at ECU’s lead and pulled within one at the half on a Bryan Shelton floater at the buzzer.
“I thought we played very well after the first 10 minutes and the last five minutes to close the (first) half,” McCallum said.
The Cougars will face No. 3 seed Memphis today at 3:30 p.m.
- Brandon Wright