The Houston Cougars shot 50.0% from the field and 52.9% from behind the arc in a blowout victory over the Gamecocks

Cougars record third straight victory in blowout win over the Gamecocks

Cougars record third straight victory in blowout win over the Gamecocks
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The Houston Cougars jumped out to a 7-0 lead to begin the game and never let up for a 76-56 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks, Sunday afternoon, inside the Williams-Brice Stadium in S.C. With the win, the Cougars improve to 5-2 on the season while riding a three-game win streak.

Quentin Grimes scored a game-high 24 points (9-17 FG, 4-7 3PT), as the sophomore guard from the Woodlands recorded his second connective game with 20 or more points.

Houston's defense played a tremendous role in the wire-to-wire victory, as their defensive presence made baskets hard to come by for the Gamecocks. South Carolina connected on 30.3% of their field goals in the first half as the Cougars took a 39-27 lead into the break.

A made 3-point field goal by Justin Minaya made it a competitive game for a short amount of time, while the Gamecocks trailed the Cougars 14-12 with 10 minutes left before the half. Houston closed out the period with a 25-12 run, led by sophomore guard Nate Hinton, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half, to go along with 11 boards for the game.

The Cougars opened the second half building their lead to a 15 point advantage, as Grimes scored 16 of his final point total in the second period. Although Houston shot 53% from behind the arc, the Cougars' won with their transition offense, outscoring South Carolina 15-4 in fastbreak points.

In the loss, the Gamecocks shot 32.3% from the floor and an abysmal 24.0% from deep. Senior forward Maik Kotsar led South Carolina in scoring with 12 points, while second-year guard A.J. Lawson recorded 10.

Following the win, the Cougars will return to the Fertitta Center on Wednesday for an in-state showdown against the Texas-Arlington Mavericks. Tip-off is slated for 7 P.M. CT.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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