No. 17 Houston's tough D tangles with ECU's Gardner
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The No. 17 Houston Cougars return home Wednesday night for their first game in the Fertitta Center in nearly two weeks against the young and reeling East Carolina Pirates.
The heavily favored Cougars, however, will have to contend with Jayden Gardner, the American Athletic Conference scoring leader.
Houston (18-1, 5-1 AAC) moved up four spots in the AP poll on the heels of a pair of road wins last week. The Cougars are tied with Cincinnati atop the conference standings.
East Carolina finds itself near the bottom of the AAC at 1-4 after an 11-point loss at home to Temple last Wednesday. The Pirates are mired in a three-game losing streak since defeating Cincinnati on Jan. 5, an upset that handed the Bearcats their only conference loss.
The Cougars are coming off an ugly 69-60 victory Saturday at South Florida, their third win in a row and second consecutive on the road. The Cougars and Bulls combined for 35 turnovers and 62 fouls in the contest.
"Not aesthetically pleasing," Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game. "I felt bad that people had to watch that."
Houston's only blemish so far is a 73-69 loss at Temple on Jan. 9.
The Pirates are 8-9 overall under head coach Joe Dooley, in the first season of his second stint at East Carolina.
ECU was throttled at Houston last year, 109-58, when the Cougars held a 62-13 halftime advantage.
"If we aren't smart enough to figure out what happened last year in the first half there, then we aren't very alert, and they should be on very high alert on what happened in the first half at Houston last season," Dooley said after the Temple loss.
But Gardner was not on that Pirates team.
This time, the young Pirates are led by Gardner, a freshman who has made an immediate impact on the league. The 6-foot-6 forward leads the AAC in scoring at 19.8 points per game and is second in rebounds at 9.4 per game.
Gardner on Monday was named the AAC Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week and fourth time this season.
Gardner is coming off a 27-point, eight-rebound performance against Temple. There are six freshmen on the ECU roster and just three seniors, with guard Isaac Fleming as the only starter. Fleming is the only senior to play significant minutes and leads the team in assists (3.6 per game).
Gardner has scored 25 or more points in six games, tops in the AAC, and he entered this week ranked tied for fifth in the country with 121 free throws made and first with 159 free throw attempts.
But Wednesday night will be Gardner's first encounter with the vaunted Cougars' defense, No. 8 in the country at 60.5 points per game entering the week. Houston also sat at No. 2 in the country in opponents' field goal percentage (36.4 percent) and No. 3 in 3-point field goal defense, allowing a stingy 26.7 percent.
The Cougars, scoring 74.6 points per game, and are led by their experienced guards, senior Corey Davis Jr. (15.2 ppg) and junior Armoni Brooks (14.3 ppg). Brooks also leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 boards per game.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 23, 2019
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Published: 2015-05-28 13:51:00
Updated: 2016-07-13 10:41:59
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