Fans slowly trickled into Hofheinz Pavilion for Wednesday’s 6:00PM tip off against the Memphis Tigers. The Cougars looked to get back on track after falling to 16-7 and 6-5 in conference after an away loss to Tulsa, which ended a three game winning streak. And they would have to do it without their top scorer, Rob Gray Jr, who is averaging 17.3 points per game, who was still nursing an ankle injury he sustained in the game against East Carolina.
I, too, had an ankle injury, which was incurred in an admittedly stupid way. I went to the park for a run for the first time in quite a while and found myself limping by the end. Whether I didn’t stretch enough, or my body just wasn’t ready for the shock of exercise after an embarrassingly long time, I don’t know. But I do know this is one of the many reasons I’m not on the basketball team. Or any basketball team. This is the reason I’m in the stands and always will be.
Sitting in my seat, reconciling with my reality, I could empathize with Rob Gray Jr. Neither of us would be playing. The difference was, though, he would return. And I was never there, so have nothing to return to. But that’s all right, because being a fan is enough for me. And when the game began, and LeRon Barnes hit a three, it felt like more than enough. A luxury even.
A few minutes into the game, Houston was spreading the ball around and multiple Cougars were scoring. But, already, Shaq Goodwin, Memphis’ leading scorer, was looking like a menace in the post. But, with 11:40 left in the first half, the Cougars were able to jump up to a 21-14 lead behind Devonta Pollard sinking of many long twos.
As the game progressed, however, the Cougars seemed to lose their identity. Or maybe they just couldn’t handle Goodwin, who had 16 points and 4 rebounds as the first half drew to a close. Memphis led 48-40, and memories of the previous Tulsa game came flooding back to me. Houston had kept up early, then let the game slip away into what ended up a blowout. I hoped this wouldn’t happen again. For my ankle’s sake. And Rob Gray’s. And for potential seeding in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, which is looking to be Houston’s only legitimate chance to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In the second half, the Cougars seemed to respond with flurries of scoring to get the game close, only to have Memphis reciprocate, and restore their lead. But Pollard kept making shots. So did Damyean Dotson. And Galen Robinson Jr. And LeRon Barnes.
And when Memphis’ Avery Woodson committed a technical foul with 5:08 left, Dotson hit both to create the first Houston lead since about halfway through the first half. The score was 79-77, and Cougars led until the final seconds of the clock ticked away.
The final score was 98-90. The victory lifted the Cougars to 17-7 and 7-5 in conference. They are fifth in the American Athletic Conference among post-season eligible teams, but not far behind No.1 Temple, who currents sits at 8-3 in conference. After their loss, Memphis dropped to 14-10 and 5-6 in conference, and sixth behind Houston.
The Cougars can thank Devonta Pollard for much of this win. He went 14-24, with 34 points, four assists, and 2 steals. He stayed out of foul trouble and lifted the team up in the absence of Rob Gray Jr. When Pollard is on, he is really on. Memphis was unlucky that he was got hot tonight, and secured the win for the home team, and earned his first ever 30-point game. Damyean Dotson was also a large factor. He scored 21 points, including going 3-4 from three. LeRon Barnes also had a good night, scoring 12 points and some critical shots from behind the arc. And Galen Robinson Jr, again, had an impressive outing. The freshmen put up 18 points, including the final free throws to put the game out of reach.
While the Cougars got outrebounded, which is uncharacteristic for them this season, they shot well, at 55.9 % and 53.8% from three. Houston improved their free throw percentage from their loss to Tulsa, going 25-32 against Memphis.
Houston didn’t do much to stop Memphis’ leading scorers, Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson, who both scored above their average at 24 and 20, respectively. This high scoring affair was determined by offense, and Pollard’s 34 points did enough to help lift Cougars to victory.
The Cougars take on UCF at 2:00 PM on Saturday, February 13th at Hofheinz Pavilion. Rob Gray Jr is questionable to play, and is more likely to return in the next game, against Tulane. My return to the park for a run is questionable, as well. I imagine if I was injured that easily, I’ll probably heal slowly. I might be shutting myself down for the remainder of the season. I’m past my prime, if I ever even had one. Luckily, Gray, and the rest of the Cougars, have improved vastly since last season and throughout this one. Their primes are largely ahead of them. Injured ankles won’t do much to slow them down. I, on the other hand, can and will be slowed down. But that’s okay. Because the Cougars won.