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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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5th-ranked Houston loses 82-73 at East Carolina

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UPDATED: February 3, 2021 -- 8:35 p.m. CT

POSTED: February 3, 2021 -- 8:15 p.m. CT

GREENVILLE, NC (Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum) -- The East Carolina Pirates snapped the 5th-ranked Houston Cougars' 8-game win streak with an 82-73 victory Wednesday evening. East Carolina earned its first win over a top 5 team in school history.

East Carolina's 82 points are the most points scored on Houston this season.

"We just didn't look like we were playing Cougar basketball tonight - in no form or fashion," Kelvin Sampson, Houston's head coach, said after the game.

East Carolina (8-6 overall, 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference) outscored Houston 45-33 in the second half. The Pirates 13 for 28 from the floor in the second half and 4 for 10 from three. East Carolina shot 11 for 24 from three in the ball game.

Houston's defense was a step slow for much of the ball game; but, Houston's offense was good enough in the half to compensate for the shaky defense.

"Sometimes you just don't have an explanation," Coach Sampson said after the game. "It just seems like we were a step slow all night -- especially getting out to their shooters."

Houston (15-2, 10-2) shot 15 for 28 from the floor in the first half including 6 for 11 on three-point shots to counter East Carolina's hot shooting from the floor. ECU shot 14 for 29 from the floor in the first half including 7 for 14 from long range. Houston led ECU 40-37 at halftime.

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Houston's offense cooled considerably in the second half while East Carolina's offense maintained its good shooting.

The Pirates blitzed Houston with 3 for 4 three-point shooting to begin the second half and jump to 49-43 lead. Houston started the second half 0 for 6 on field goal attempts including 0 for 4 on three-pointers.

Houston trailed 51-43 but went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 51; however, then Houston committed turnovers and ECU responded with a 6-0 run to lead 57-51.

Houston's DeJon Jarreau scored a layup to end Houston's drought; but, ECU scored 5 consecutive points to lead 62-53 with 7:04 remaining in the game.

Houston's defense never got in sync during the second half. After scoring 4 straight points to pull within 62-57, ECU answered with 5 straight to lead 67-57 5:22 remaining.

Houston did not get closer than 9 points the rest of the ball game.

Jarreau scored a game-high 25 points for Houston. Marcus Sasser scored 17 points and Justin Gorham added 11 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double this season.

Jayden Gardner led five Pirates in double-digit scoring with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Tremont Robinson-White was next with 17 points. J.J. Miles added 14 points. Bitumba Baruti was next with 13 points and Tristen Newton added 10 points.

"It comes down to the coach, man," Coach Sampson commented. "The coach has got to do a better job of getting his team ready to play. Obviously, I didn't; and, I have to stand up and say, 'You know what? You gotta do a better job in these situations.'

Coach Sampson continued, "You always point the finger at yourself and think 'What could I have done better?' This one'll haunt me for a while. But, hats off to Joe - Coach Dooley, East Carolina. It's a great win for them. Great for their program. Great for Joe and his staff. They deserve to win the game.

"Very rarely do we get out-competed," Sampson acknowledged. "The other team played harder than us. We hang our hat on being tough. We weren't any of those things tonight. Obviously, that responsibility comes back to the coach."

Coach Sampson wrapped up his postgame session, "I think I'm more disappointed than I am anything else. Records and all that stuff that people talk about. That's on them. I don't care about that stuff. We're down here in this grind, going through this. It's a long season. If it was easy, you know, what we've accomplished up to this point is tremendous.

"We didn't become a bad team tonight. We just gave a poor effort tonight; and, that's something that comes back to me. I gotta fix it."


Houston's next game is Saturday, February 6, at 2 p.m., versus NAIA member Our Lady of the Lake. ESPN+ will stream the game. (Get ESPN+)

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