‘When the ball goes in, it solves a lot of problems’: Houston Cougars basketball closes out nonconference slate with strong shooting night

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Wyke/AP/Shutterstock (13681105p) McNeese State guard Johnathan Massie, left, looks to drive around Houston forward Ja’Vier Francis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston McNeese Basketball, Houston, United States – 21 Dec 2022

‘When the ball goes in, it solves a lot of problems’: Houston Cougars basketball closes out nonconference slate with strong shooting night

The Houston Cougars basketball team completed its nonconference slate on Wednesday night with a dominant win over McNeese, 83-44.

No. 3 Houston (12-1) hit 14 3-pointers as it held the Cowboys (3-10) to an abysmal shooting night for most of the contest.

Sophomore big man Ja’Vier Francis, who tallied a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double, freshman guard Emanuel Sharp, who had 18 points with six-made 3-pointers; and senior guard Marcus Sasser, who hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, led the way for UH.

“When the ball goes in, it solves a lot of problems,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters following Wednesday’s game against McNeese.

The Pembroke, North Carolina, native credited the team’s excellent ball movement and shot selection for Houston’s sensational shooting from behind the arc against the Cowboys.

Houston also assisted on 23 of its 32 made field goals against McNeese. It has been a trend for the Cougars since the loss to then-eighth-ranked Alabama on Dec. 10. Against North Carolina A&T, UH assisted on 14 of its 28 made baskets. Against Virginia, it assisted on 17 of its 25 made baskets.

“Wisdom and lessons. I think that was born out of the Kent State game, [the] St. Mary’s game, [the] Alabama game,” Sampson said. “We try to give our guys freedom. It’s not about running plays. We don’t need to run a lot of plays. Teams that look like us aren’t going to live off a play. We like our kids to make plays in space.”

Houston had a coming to Jesus meeting about how it was going to play following the loss to the Crimson Tide, Sampson said. One of the key points was ball movement.

“Some things just aren’t negotiable,” the head coach stated. “Ball’s got to move. Move it. And if you catch somebody in a close-out and you think you can drive it, drive it. Draw somebody and then move it again.”

Another key for Houston is shot selection, he said. Sampson added that Sasser and Sharp are the two best 3-point shooters on the team. When the team can set both of them up for good looks, Houston will have a good chance at having a great shooting night. The two guards made 11 of the team’s 14 3-pointers against the Cowboys.

Both Sharp and Francis have become the two players that come off the bench first for Houston in the last three games. With both still young to the college basketball level, every minute of action for each is an investment in them and the program, Sampson said.

“It allows me to get more comfortable, see the floor and just understand the game more,” Sharp said. “Every minute I get is good for me.”

In its nonconference schedule, Houston was able to get a lot of different challenges in preparation for the American Athletic Conference schedule and beyond.

Sampson said this year’s nonconference matchups were just right for his team, as it is most years, he added. Sampson is the one that sets Houston’s nonconference schedule.

“We could have been anywhere from 13-0 to 9-4,” Sampson said. “A lot of teams are going to go lose at Oregon. A lot of teams will lose at Virginia. A lot of teams will lose to Alabama. A lot of teams will lose to St. Mary’s. Those are good teams, so we are happy to be 12-1, and then we are excited to start conference [play].”

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