HOUSTON (AP) — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said his Cougars “came out sharp as a blade.”
That might be an understatement.
Rob Gray had 19 points and 11 assists, and No. 23 Houston used a huge first half en route to a 109-58 victory over East Carolina on Sunday.
Armoni Brooks added 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from 3-point range for the Cougars (22-6, 12-4 American), who shot 67 percent from the field. Corey Davis Jr. chipped in 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
“Beginning of the game, we got a lot of stops, which allowed us to play in the open court,” Gray said. “Once we get in the open court, our team is coached well to find the open guy and get to the best shooter. That’s what we did. Just a normal day in the office. We were making a lot of 3s in a row.”
Houston had runs of 22-0 and 11-0, then closed the half on a 14-1 run to build a 62-13 lead. The Cougars were 23 of 31 from the floor in the half, including 12 of 16 from behind the arc. Houston started 13 of 15 from the field, including 7 of 8 on 3-pointers and hit 10 straight field goals at one point.
“We work on those shots every day after practice, before practice,” Brooks said. “Really our defense was what got the run going. We got stops, got rebounds. We are at our best in transition. We got the rebound and pushed it.”
Gray had 17 points and 10 assists in the first half and hit all five from the floor, including all three from behind the arc. Brooks had 18 points at the half, and hit his first six from behind the arc. The 62 first-half points were the most Houston has scored in a half since scoring 62 in the second half against Florida Tech on Nov. 22, 2005.
“I can’t say enough about the way we played on both ends of the floor,” Sampson said. “Ball movement, rebounding, defense, knocking down open shots. It was a great bounce-back win.”
The Cougars’ lead grew as large as 61 in the second half. Houston finished with 18 3-pointers, which tied a conference record Houston set against Tulsa on Jan. 11.
East Carolina (10-17, 4-12), which has lost three straight, shot 22 percent and committed 10 turnovers in the first half. The Pirates were outrebounded 22-6 in the first half.
“We knew they would come out and try to hit us in the mouth early on,” East Carolina interim coach Michael Perry said. “We wanted to try to slow them down with the zone. I thought we did a pretty good job in the half court, but when they got us in transition, it was really hard. They are good in transition, and then it started like a snowball coming downhill from that point on.”
B.J. Tyson finished with 24 points, Shawn Williams added 14 and Isaac Fleming scored 13 for the Pirates, who shot 37 percent for the game.
“It was unbelievable,” Perry said. “We were there. As a coach, sometimes you don’t know what to say when a kid looks at you and say, ‘Coach, I was there. I challenged the shot, and they jumped up and made it.'”
East Carolina: The Pirates led 3-2 following Fleming’s 3-pointer with 17:23 remaining in the first, but Houston dominated the rest of the game. The Pirates struggled from the field but also struggled defensively to put pressure on the Cougars, who had a lot of open shots in the first half.
Houston: After its loss at Memphis, Houston rebounded in a big way. The Cougars played well defensively, which led to 12 turnovers and 19 points off turnover. Houston outrebounded the Pirates 46-17 and had 31 assists. Gabe Grant came off the bench to score 12 points.
Perry used three of his four timeouts in a span of 2 minutes, 43 seconds in the first half while the Cougars were going on their run. Perry called his first timeout with 14:56 left in the opening half and called his final of three timeouts with 12:13 remaining.
“Trying to stop the run as much as possible,” Perry said. “I knew that was coming. I was trying to slow them down as much as possible.”
HOME SWEET (TEMPORARY) HOME
The Cougars improved to 14-0 at home this season. Houston is playing this season at Texas Southern’s H&PE Arena while construction continues on Houston’s on-campus Fertita Center.
East Carolina: Hosts Tulsa on Thursday before finishing the regular season at Memphis on March 4.
Houston: Travels to SMU Wednesday before hosting UConn on March 4.