COUGARS OVERWHELM PONIES
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The University of Houston overcame a 17 point halftime deficit by scoring 68 points after halftime to beat SMU Saturday afternoon at Moody Coliseum, 84-80 in overtime. The announced crowd was 3,886, the largest crowd at Moody over the past two seasons. The Cougars improved their record to 14-7 for the season, 3-5 in Conference-USA play. The Mustangs fell to 12-11 and 2-6, as Houston swept SMU in conference play this season two games to none.
The Mustangs came out smoking to start the game. They built a 10 point lead at 18-8 just seven minutes into the game and stretched that lead to as many as 19 points before settling for the 17 point halftime lead at 35-18. The Mustangs played the first half at a furious pace scoring six fast break points and 11 off Houston turnovers, as they seemingly were in command of the game.
“We can’t play any better for a half,” Mustang head coach said afterward about the first half. “Control the tempo, took great shots, defended.”
“I think the first five minutes in the second half was the key to the game,” Brown said. That proved true as UH almost doubled their score over the first 5:03 of the second half, outscoring SMU 16-8 which cut the Mustangs’ lead into single digits at 41-32.
From there, Houston steadily chipped away to finally tie the game at 55 with 4:45 remaining. The tie came on a free throw from UH freshman Danuel House, who gave the Cougars their first lead at 56-55 since early in the game by hitting the second free throw. SMU subsequently tied the game three times, but never led again. The third tie came at 71 as SMU’s Shawn Williams from Duncanville hit a three point basket at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, bringing the roaring crowd to their feet.
In overtime though, the Cougars quickly took charge tallying six points in the first minute on a pair of three point plays from Jherrod Stiggers, a redshirt freshman from Terrell, Texas. SMU twice crawled to within one point, but Joseph Young, son of legendary UH player Michael Young (one of just five UH players to have his jersey retired), sealed the deal for the Cougars by canning a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining.
The Mustangs simply ran out of gas in the second half. Four of the five starters played more than 40 minutes, Cannen Cunningham being the exception because he fouled out. The Mustangs held the Cougars to 33.3% shooting in the first half, but UH more than doubled that percentage to 69.6% in the second half. Five Cougars came off the UH bench to contribute 59 minutes of playing time and 21 points. Only three players came off the Mustangs bench. None of them scored, and they played a total of just 21 minutes.
SMU’s Nick Russell led all scorers with 22 points, followed closely by Jalen Jones with 21. The Mustangs’ starting five scored all 80 points in the game, with Cannen Cunningham (nine points) as the only starter in single digits. Jones grabbed a game high eight rebounds, while guard Ryan Manuel recorded a “double-double” with 15 points and a career high 10 assists,
Four Cougars also scored in double digits led by Young with 17 points. He was joined by TaShawn Thomas (15), J. J. Thompson (13) and House (10).
Coach Brown summed it up, “We are what we are. I’m proud of these kids. They play a lot of minutes. They’re getting better. It’s hard seeing their faces like that – the disappointment. From a coach’s perspective, there’s a lot of good things out there. As a coach, you feel good about your team. You want them to see a result that they can feel good about. That’s the thing that’s difficult for me.”
With the first half of conference play in the books, both teams are looking for a strong finish to have the opportunity for post-season play. Houston returns home for their next two games – next Saturday against Tulane and the following Wednesday against U.T.E.P. The Mustangs host Memphis next Wednesday in one of just three remaining men’s games at Moody Coliseum in its current configuration.