Houston falls to No. 8 after a tough loss to ECU

Houston falls to No. 8 after a tough loss to ECU
Kelvin Sampson took the loss personally. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
For U of H, Sampson deal better not turn into Herman 2.0

With football coming to an end, basketball is now on the minds of most fans. With conference tournaments and March Madness approaching, Houston is gearing up for a deep run. However, they hit a speed bump in Greenville, North Carolina Wednesday night.

Houston moved to No. 5 in the AP Top 25, marking their second time there this season. This is also the program's highest ranking since the 1983-84 season. But it was a short-lived stint in the top 5 as East Carolina University pulled off the upset against the heavily favored Cougars.

Houston had their worst defensive performance as the Pirates scored 82 points in their victory. This is the largest amount of points this Cougar team has given up this season.

Their loss can be attributed to poor performances on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Sure they scored 73 points and DeJon Jarreau matched his career high with 25 points to lead the Cougars and Marcus Sasser added 17 points, but they couldn't seem to get anyone else rolling offensively.

Quentin Grimes had 7 points his 2nd lowest scoring output of the season and second consecutive game in which he scored less than 10 points.

Justin Gorham extended his rebounding streak to 9 consecutive games with 10 or more rebounds, but was limited offensively.

No other Cougar scored more than six points and their bench was nonexistent.

Before this game, East Carolina had lost five straight contests. The Pirates were also without starter Brandon Suggs due to injury and lost reserve guard Tyrie Jackson during the game to an apparent leg injury.

Houston didn't get many stops and made just 8 of 31 shots after halftime.

Kelvin Sampson took the loss personally and blamed himself for their poor performance.

"At the end of the day, you know what it is?" Sampson said. "It comes down to the coach, man. The coach has got to do a better job of getting his team ready to play."

The Cougars' nine game win streak against the Pirates came to an end and East Carolina snapped a 33 game losing streak against AP Top 25 teams.

Houston needed a bounce back game and were able to schedule NAIA school Our Lady of the Lake last minute.

It was not a close contest by any means and not a single starter played for the Cougars.

Cameron Tyson was the leading scorer with 32 points. Tramon Mark and Jamal Shead each scored 22 and 20 points respectively.

It was a game Houston needed to build some confidence on their way to a third straight AAC title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT: The Cougars travel to Tampa to take on the University of South Florida Bulls.

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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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