Cougars clinch win over UCF
Senior guard Robert "Fluff" McKiver scored 23 of his 31 points in the second half to help Houston overcome an 11-point deficit and keep the game close, but it came down to free throws in the end.
Houston leads Conference USA in free-throw percentage, shooting 77 percent as a team, while starting guards McKiver and Lanny Smith are one and two in the conference from the foul line, with percentages of 87 and 86.
Smith nailed four clutch free throws in the final 11 seconds, securing the Cougars’ 84-81 win over the Golden Knights on Saturday in Orlando. Houston improved to 16-4, 5-1 in C-USA, and in winning, UH head coach Tom Penders earned his 600th career win.
"I was really happy with this win tonight, not only because it was my 600th win, but because it was a huge win for our team," Penders said. "We faced a lot of adversity early in the game when we couldn’t get anything to go offensively. But, we hung in there with our defense and then (McKiver) got hot in the second half and we were able to come back and win.
"You have to give Lanny Smith credit for coming in at the end of the game and hitting four pressure-packed free throws to clinch it."
The Cougars overcame an offensive onslaught by UCF’s Jermaine Taylor for the victory. Taylor hit a three-point shot with 4.9 seconds remaining in the game to bring the Golden Knights to within one point, at 82-81 with 4.9 seconds left. Taylor tied with McKiver for a game-high 31 points.
"You have to give UCF a lot of credit because when we pulled ahead in the second half, they kept coming back and took the game down to the wire," Penders said. "But you also have to give our team a lot of credit because they were able to come into a hostile environment on the road and win a big road game."
After completing his fourth 30-point performance of the season, McKiver said he wanted to give a shout-out to the man who recruited him from San Jacinto Community.
"First of all, I just want to say congratulations to Coach Penders because if it wasn’t for him, I would not be able to showcase my talents on the floor," McKiver said. "He has taught me a lot about the game of basketball and helped me develop my game."
Smith said Penders’ ability to get the best from his players is one of the reason’s why he’s become one of only eight active coaches to reach the 600 plateau.
"He comes in here demanding that we come with it every single day," Smith said. "In that respect, I know he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had."