#3 Houston Shines in the Veterans Classic

By: Ethan Hennessy

Annapolis Maryland

The 9th Annual Veterans Classic took place November 11th at Alumni Hall in Annapolis Maryland. Two themes emerged from the night. First, Houston is a legitimate final four and national championship contender and second the floor conditions at Alumni Hall had a big impact on the event.

#3 Houston jumped out to an early lead over Saint Joe’s. The Cougars we’re flying all over the court on both the offensive and defensive end. They were getting up in the grill of Saint Joe’s players making them uncomfortable and diving on the floor for loose balls. Houston freshman Jarace Walker impressed the 30 NBA scouts in the building putting in 23 points and eight rebounds in the Cougars 81-55 victory. Head Coach Kevlin Sampson said after the game “Jarace had 23 points tonight. That’s great. I don’t think anybody in our program is going to ask for his autograph because of it. He had 8 rebounds, well how about getting 18 rebounds because he’s capable.” This theme of not being satisfied with the performance was also evident in his comments talking about his team’s defense. Sampson said their zone was not good tonight but that the other team just missed shots. He did give his senior guard some credit by saying “Marcus is one of the best on ball defenders in America… that dude is one tough hombre”.

On the Saint Joe’s side the Hawks struggled to hang with the juggernaut Cougars. Erik Reynolds II was the one bright spot scoring wise for the Hawks contributing 17. Head Coach Billy Lange who was the former Navy Head Coach about a decade ago told the media postgame “The entire event is amazing. I was thrilled with the way our guys immersed themselves in the yard. Everything they learned I got to live it for seven years. It was one of the greatest honors and blessings of my life, and it carries over. Things like routine brotherhood, servant leadership, love, and these are all things we talk about here at Saint Joe’s. I just thanked them for having us in the event.”

Throughout the second half of the first game the floor started to develop a condensation problem. Players were slipping and the curt had to be mopped and toweled down by staff at pretty much every stoppage. It got to bad that at the final media timeout the officials pulled both coaches together and urged them to stop the game. Despite the warning both coaches wanted to continue playing. When I asked coach Lange why he wanted to continue the game when the officials encouraged him and coach Sampson to call the remainder of the game at the under four media timeout due to all of the condensation on the floor and the unsafe playing conditions he responded ” That’s not a smart rule, to postpone a game when a team is up 26 points, they’re going to win the game, and they’re a national championship aspirational program. So to play and not get a win I just thought was not the right decision to make, and I think we’re going to be good so it could be a really quality win for them. You go to your bench and tell guys don’t chase anyone down…. it just was the right thing to do for the University of Houston bottom line, and we just had to make sure we were smart about not getting injured.”

Surprisingly they continued the event playing the second game. The floor got noticeably even worse, but efforts were made to try to address it by bringing in giant fans and having even more individuals engage in timeout floor treatment.

Navy jumped out to a massive lead in the first half of their game, but Princeton came roaring back in the second half. Unfortunately for the Tigers the spirited comeback fell just short and they lost 74-73. Head Coach Mitch Henderson said after the game. “They absolutely smacked us in the first half. There was nothing we could do. The guys responded nicely in the second half, but it proved too much to overcome.” When I asked him about the mids shooting 72% in the first half he responded “They were awesome, and their baskets were easy. It was a clinic, and we were on the wrong side of it. We haven’t had an experience like that in a long time… credit goes to Navy they were great”. 

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