Cougar’s blow past injured Mustangs

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2019

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BY:  Dic Humphrey                                                                                                                                                                 MEMBER:  United States Basketball Writers Association

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Houston Cougars came into Moody Coliseum and showed SMU Mustang fans why they are ranked 21st and 17th in the AP and Coaches’ polls this week.  They out-fought the Ponies for a nine point halftime lead and were never seriously challenged in the second half on their way to a 69-58 win.  UH’s record runs to 17-1 on the season and 4-1 in American Athletic Conference play.  SMU drops to 11-6 and 3-2.

The first half was a ruggedly played affair.  SMU’s Jarrey Foster went down with a knee injury, the same knee that has already been through two ACL operations.  He was lost for the night four minutes into the game.  He returned to the locker room immediately and will be reevaluated before the Mustangs’ next game.

“We don’t know exactly the severity,” SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich told reporters after the game about Foster’s injury.  “We know that it’s more than say a bruise.  It’s just devastating.  I’d watched the guy suffer an ACL in January of last year and work so unbelievably hard to get himself back to be able to play this year.  We don’t know exactly what it (the injury) is going to mean, but it’s just heart breaking.”

The Mustangs made a season high 13 three-point baskets last Saturday against Tulsa, but made none in the first half against Houston.  The Cougars game plan was to clamp down on SMU’s leading scorer – Jahmal McMurray.  “They guarded the heck out of him,” Jankovich noted.  Houston double teamed McMurray, and he shot 1-6 in the first half, which included 0-2 from beyond the three point arc.  Houston held him to just four points before intermission.

Jimmy Whitt, Jr. took up most of the slack.  He scored 14 in the first half to keep the Mustangs in the game.  “He wasn’t feeling very well,” Jankovich said about Whitt.  “How about that effort for a guy that doesn’t feel very well.  He’s been playing like that when he does feel well.  He’s been amazing.  You talk about a guy that has become a player!  Look at his numbers.  He had one turnover again.  Six assists.  And he’s out there battling his tail off.”  

SMU trailed by just six points as the clock ran down toward halftime, but Houston’s Armoni Brooks hit a buzzer beating three to extend the Cougar lead to nine at 31-22.  Psychologically, it was a dagger in the Mustangs’ heart.  Brooks was largely the first half story for UH.  He scored 14 points on 5-11 shooting, which included four three point baskets.  

Jankovich was impressed with Houston.  “Their guards are shooting step back threes.  They’re shooting deep threes.  The shot at the end of the half was really deep and contested.  They hit tough, tough shots.  I’m very impressed with them.  They’re very talented guards.”

SMU shot a miserable 38.2% in the first half, while Houston was marginally better at 45.5%.  The rugged play though kept the scoring down.

Both teams shot better in the second half, and the game was more cleanly played.  Houston extended the lead out to 16 points over the first nine minutes.  SMU hit five three pointers after intermission to keep the score within reasonable reach, but the Ponies never really challenged in the second half.

Whitt finished with 20 points to lead SMU.  Three other Mustangs cracked double digits.  Isiah Mike matched his uniform number with 15.  McMurray finished with 11 on 3-14 shooting, as Houston’s double team forced him into some poor shots.  It was the 13th consecutive game that McMurray has scored in double digits.  Ethan Chargois finished with 10, all of which were scored in the second half.  Chargois completed a double-double with 12 rebounds to be the leading rebounder in the game.  

SMU actually ended up out-rebounding the Cougars 35-31.  Of course with the poor shooting, there were more rebounding opportunities for SMU, and they grabbed 11 to just eight offensive rebounds for the Cougars.  

Houston was led by the two headed monster of Brooks and Corey Davis, Jr.  They combined for 39 points – 20 and 19 for Davis and Brooks respectively.  Fabian White, Jr. was the other Cougar to score in double digits.  He had 11.  With the rugged play especially in the first half, many players were in foul trouble, so bench scoring was a factor.  Houston had four players score a total of 12 points off the bench, while Nat Dixon hit a pair of free throws to account for all of SMU’s bench scoring.

The American Athletic Conference standings are still crowded at the top.  Houston along with Cincinnati and Temple are leading the conference at 4-1.  Central Florida and Memphis are close behind at 3-1.  SMU is in sixth place at 3-2.   

The Mustangs now go on the road to Memphis. The Tigers are 11-6 on the season and 3-1 in American Conference games.  Game time is 3:00 PM (Central), and it will be televised on ESPNU.

Houston continues on the road Saturday facing South Florida in Tampa.  Game time is 7:00 PM (Central), and it will be televised on ESPNU.

NOTABLE:

  • Jimmy Whitt was named to the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll last week for his performance against Connecticut and Tulsa.  He had a double-double in both games as he scored 30 points, pulled down 20 rebounds, and had six assists and four steals.  It was the fourth week this season that Whitt has made the AAC weekly honor roll.
  • SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich admitted what many had suspected on his post-game radio interview.  Everett Ray’s injury will keep him out for the entire season.
  • Wednesday’s win was the 600th college win for Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson.  It was also his 100th win as coach of the Cougars. 
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