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Bless our hearts as Edmund Burke quoted: The only thing necessary for the triump of evil is for good men(and women) to...

ECU loses cool, Houston romps

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East Carolina's head coach Joe Dooley is ejected against Houston on Feb. 27, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A big crowd for a big opponent went from hopeful to angry to confused on Wednesday night as East Carolina basketball was blasted by No. 8 Houston, 99-65, in Minges Coliseum.

A tight early game got away from the Pirates quickly, as did the collective temper of the home team, which saw head coach Joe Dooley and sophomore guard Shawn Williams thrown out of the game during a temper-fueled few minutes early in the second half. It did not swing the game for UH (27-1, 14-1 American Athletic Conference) so much as it left no doubt about the possibility of a comeback for the hosts.

After leading by 14 at halftime, Houston throttled the Pirates (10-17, 3-12) by a 54-34 count in the second half.

The game was already trending toward a blowout with just less than 18 minutes to play in the second when it was abruptly turned on its ear by a bizarre flurry of technical fouls and ejections against the Pirates that threw Minges into a chorus of boos.

All the while, Houston continued to pound away, building a 90-58 lead with 4:29 to play.

“We got off to a decent start, a decent start to the second half, and obviously things went totally haywire,” Dooley said.

ECU guard Isaac Fleming was whistled for a delay of game call that was hotly contested by Dooley, who received the first tech, followed soon by Fleming. After Houston’s first sets of free throws, Dooley and an irate ECU fan were ejected in quick succession for their extensive remonstrating with the officials. After more technical free throws by the Cougars, a hard foul by Williams under the basket was ruled a flagrant-1 infraction, and after a review showed Williams flinging the ball at the UH player afterward, it was ruled a flagrant-2, warranting an automatic ejection.

Dooley said he did not expect a statement from the league clarifying the calls, and added he expects himself and Williams to be ready to play in the Pirates’ next game. He called the incidents in the second half “a debacle.”

“I’ll take partial responsibility, and there’s some other parties I think should take partial responsibility,” the coach said. “I’m very unhappy our fans had to witness it. It’s the first time in 31 years I’ve gotten tossed. I think our guys lost their composure a little bit, and you can’t do that against a top-10 team.” 

Houston shot the lights out from behind the arc, knocking down 13 3-pointers in the win. The Cougars were led by a 26-point onslaught from Corey Davis Jr., followed by 16 from Fabian White Jr., 12 from Armony Brooks and 10 from Nate Hinton.

ECU got a team-high 17 points from Seth LeDay, 14 from Jayden Gardner and 13 from Fleming.

Pirate players said despite the tension surrounding the game, there was actually little of it between the players on the floor.

“They were cool. We just wanted to play basketball,” Gardner said of UH.

While the American did not issue a statement immediately following the game about the incidents, an AAC official clarified to the AP the order of calls and events.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know what happened,” said Dooley, calling Houston a Final Four-caliber team and praising the Cougars for their poise in the game. “I deserved the first technical and I was told by (lead official) Tony Greene to stand there for a second and then (a second official) got me off the baseline (with a second call) ... so I was gone.

“I think there were a number of people who lost control tonight.”

Dooley was forced to watch the rest of the episode play out from his office on television. 

It was the second blowout win by the Cougs over the Pirates this season.

The first-year ECU coach went on to say he has received few technicals in his head coaching career and that he is “sick of it” when it comes to not being able to defend his team’s position.

“We’re not getting sand kicked in our face anymore,” he said. “We’re going to stand up and play the right way ... referee the right way and play the right way. We need to play better, they need to ref better.”

According to veteran Houston coach and North Carolina native Kelvin Sampson, by the end of the game, he just wanted to get himself and his team back home.

He lauded Dooley and noted what he perceives as progress the ECU coach is making, but he also acknowledged some of the Pirates lost their cool.

“I didn’t see what precipitated the calls,” Sampson said. “I did see one, and one of the technicals for sure was warranted. ... The game got sketchy there for a while. We’re up 30 and the next thing you know we’re up 17 and then we’re up 30 and at the point, let’s just go home.

Sampson and Dooley were in agreement that fans who threw bottles onto the court in protest did not have safety in mind, but the coach backed up the officiating crew.

“Tony Greene has done Final Fours, Steve Anderson does ACC, our conference and SEC,” he said. “That’s a great crew that worked tonight. I think they called what they saw.”

The Cougars raced out to a 45-31 halftime lead thanks to a storm of 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. UH went 8-for-16 from distance in the half, including Davis going 4-for-8 and Brooks hitting 3-of-5.

The Pirates started the game brightly, briefly taking a 7-4 lead on consecutive baskets by K.J. Davis and LeDay, and Gardner’s free throws tied the game 11-11 minutes later, but after Houston retook the lead, the Cougars never gave it back.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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