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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Men's Basketball

Lewis leads Cougars’ party of 3s


Kelvin Lewis found his stroke from behind the arc early and often, erupting for 29 points — including a career-high seven 3-pointers — in the Cougars’ 66-60 win over SMU on Saturday at Hofheinz Pavilion. | Zuhair Siddiqui/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars found themselves in an unusual dilemma during the opening moments of Saturday’s matchup with SMU.

With Aubrey Coleman unable to figure out the Mustang’s 2-3 zone defense, UH needed someone else to carry the offensive load.

Coleman’s on-the-court sidekick, Kelvin Lewis, did just that.

Lewis scored a season-high 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting, allowing UH to overcome a below-average performance from Coleman and capture a 66-60 victory at Hofheinz Pavilion.

Lewis, who matched his career high with seven 3-pointers, was the focal point of the Cougars’ offense from tip-off.

“Today, everybody was really looking for me,” Lewis said. “I was just trying to lull (SMU) to sleep.

“I knew (my shot) was going to start to come around.”

Coleman, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting, missed his first five field-goal attempts and had only two points at halftime. But because Lewis put up 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, UH (13-11, 5-5 Conference USA) held a 31-26 advantage.

After slowing Lewis’ production and gaining control of the tempo in the second half, the Mustangs (11-13, 4-6) were able to erase an 11-point deficit. But for the second straight game, the Cougars — including Coleman — delivered in crunch time by making free throws and playing intense defense.

Lewis believes UH is simply reaping the results of focusing on areas that plagued it in losses.

“Recently, we’ve been stressing the little things like … getting the 50-50 ball and hustle plays.” Lewis said. “Those are the differences between winning and losing.”

Those little things also include free throws and protecting the ball. The Cougars committed a season-low two turnovers and made 18 of 20 attempts from the charity stripe.

Despite UH’s success in these areas, it still had to battle hard for the win.

Robert Nyakundi made a free throw with 1:50 left in the game to give SMU a 57-56 advantage.

Coleman answered by sinking a step-back jumper that gave the Cougars a 58-57 lead with 1:31 remaining.

Coleman then committed a lane violation on the other end of the court, giving Papa Dia an extra free-throw attempt. Dia took advantage of the opportunity, sinking the shot to tie the game at 58 with 1:16 left to play.

After Coleman drew a blocking foul and made two free throws on the Cougars’ next possession, UH came up with a huge defensive stop to keep its lead at 60-58.

SMU was forced to foul at that point, but Lewis and Zamal Nixon made a combined six free throws in the final 45 seconds to preserve the victory.

“Kelvin showed today why he’s such a valuable part of our team,” Penders said. “If he was really on today, I think he would’ve scored 40 or 50.”

The Cougars will next face Central Florida at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Orlando, Fla.

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