GREENVILLE — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson had just watched his 21st-ranked Cougars grind through a road win when he ran across East Carolina’s Jayden Gardner in the hallway outside his postgame news conference.
The veteran coach couldn’t hold back his praise for an opponent who made things difficult on his young team, even after Houston had led by double figures much of the night in a 69-59 win.
“You’ve got a big heart and you’re a warrior, man,” Sampson told Gardner, patting him on the chest.
The Cougars (17-4, 7-1 American Athletic Conference) won for the 15th time in 17 games Wednesday night, though they struggled all night to slow the 6-foot-7 sophomore and AAC-leading scorer. Gardner finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds.
“We played against a lot of teams, but Gardner’s the best player we’ve played against,” Sampson said. “We’ve played against nobody that is more difficult because you don’t know who to put on him.
“We came in with a brilliant game plan, we threw that out of the window in three minutes. That one didn’t work. We said, ‘Well OK, let’s go to this.’ That one didn’t work either. He’s tough.”
While Gardner got little help from his teammates, Houston showed some of the balance that has put it atop the AAC standings.
Houston came in with five players averaging between 9.8 and 12.9 points, then got 18 points, five rebounds and a season-high six assists from redshirt freshman Caleb Mills. Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes added 15 points, while Chris Harris Jr. had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Compare that to the Pirates (9-12, 3-5). Gardner finished with one fewer point than the rest of his teammates, who made 8 of 39 shots (20.5%). And Houston made its move when the Pirates got away from feeding Gardner late in the first half after he had scored 16 points, building a 33-21 lead by the break and never letting ECU closer than eight again.
East Carolina finished the game shooting 33%, including 4 of 23 from 3-point range and 17 of 26 from the foul line (65%).
“I think one of the things when you play Houston is they’re not going to help you, so you have to help yourself because they don’t give you anything,” Pirates coach Joe Dooley said. “I thought some of the things we needed to do, we did. Some of the things we needed to probably help ourselves, we didn’t.”
Houston: The Cougars visit Cincinnati on Saturday.
ECU: The Pirates visit Temple on Saturday.
Davidson drops 4OT game at George Washington
WASHINGTON — Maceo Jack had a career-high 35 points, including a 3-pointer that sent the game into its first overtime, to lift George Washington to a 107-104 quadruple overtime win over Davidson on Wednesday night.
The Colonials trailed by three when Jack sank a 3-pointer with 40 seconds to go in regulation to tie the game and send it into the first of four overtime periods.
In the fourth overtime, Jameer Nelson Jr. and Jamison Battle drained consecutive 3-pointers to give the Colonials the lead for good, 103-98, with 1:53 left.
Battle scored a season-high 25 points and had seven rebounds for George Washington (10-11, 4-4 Atlantic 10 Conference). Chase Paar added 13 points and 16 rebounds and Nelson finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
George Washington posted a season-high 20 assists.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson led the Wildcats with a season high 31 points and added 10 rebounds and six assists. Kellan Grady tied a season high with 28 points for the Wildcats (10-10, 4-4). Luka Brajkovic added 14 points.
George Washington plays Richmond on the road on Saturday. Davidson matches up against UMass at home on Saturday.
Miller scores 23, UNC Greensboro tops Western Carolina
CULLOWHEE — Isaiah Miller had 23 points as UNC Greensboro defeated Western Carolina 72-58 on Wednesday night.
Kyrin Galloway had 15 points and three blocks for UNC Greensboro (17-5, 7-2 Southern Conference), which won its fifth consecutive game. James Dickey added 12 rebounds.
Western Carolina scored 18 points in the second half, missing 11 3-pointers and making only six field goals. UNC Greensboro outscored the Catamounts by 15 points in the second half despite 3-of-16 shooting from 3-point distance and 37% shooting overall.
Carlos Dotson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Catamounts (13-7, 5-4). Mason Faulkner added six assists.
UNC Greensboro plays at East Tennessee State on Saturday. Western Carolina plays at Chattanooga on Saturday.