DALLAS — Aubrey Coleman tried his hardest to lead the Cougars to a victory over SMU on Saturday, and he certainly had to hustle.
Coleman crashed the boards, drove into the paint and passed the ball to teammates who had open looks at the basket. But Coleman and his teammates couldn’t counter a sizzling second-half shooting effort by the Mustangs, as UH fell 94-83 at Moody Coliseum.
“He’s a great player,” SMU point guard Derek Williams said of Coleman. “He’s going to get his. The goal was to make every look he takes a difficult one.”
Coleman made only nine of 22 field-goal attempts in 40 minutes of action, but he led the Cougars (14-14, 6-8 Conference USA) in points (30), rebounds (nine) assists (six), steals (three) and free throws (eight).
The inside-out combination of Williams and forward Papa Dia was just what SMU needed to overcome Coleman’s gritty performance.
After the Mustangs (14-14, 6-8) scored only one point in the final 6:54 of the first half, Williams (18 points, eight assists) helped the Mustangs take charge. In addition to scoring 16 points after halftime, Williams dished out four assists and grabbed four boards. He zipped past UH’s guards and juked around its bigs, leading SMU to 61 points on 66.7-percent shooting in the second half.
“We just knocked down shots,” Williams said. “We can play (at UH’s preferred) tempo. The ball just went in the hole for us.”
Dia crushed the Cougars in the paint for a career-high 31 points on 11-of-13 shooting. His aggressive approach slowly wore down UH’s forwards, as he grinded his way to 12 rebounds and 11 free-throw attempts.
“The last time we played Houston, (head) coach (Matt Dougherty) told me I was intimidated by ‘Big Boy’ (UH forward Kendrick Washington),” Dia said. “Today when I saw him, I was like, ‘I’m going at him.’”
The loss pushes the Cougars into a tie with Southern Miss for seventh place in the C-USA standings. With only two games remaining before the C-USA championship, which Tulsa will host March 10-13, UH must brace itself for a difficult four-day stretch.
But before that happens, the Cougars will close out their regular-season home slate at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when they take on cross-town Rice.
Saturday’s contest was tied at 71 before SMU ripped off a 7-0 run to take a 78-71 lead with 4:03 remaining in the second half.
The Mustangs took control during this stretch, tightening their interior defense to force UH into some ill-advised perimeter shots. On the defensive end, the Cougars were unable to contain a confident SMU offense that had found its shooting rhythm.
Intense play allowed the Mustangs to gain that poise after they trailed 39-33 at halftime.
SMU caught fire at the start of the second half, making its first three shots to jump-start a 12-5 run. Robert Nyakundi capped the surge with a 3-pointer, giving the Mustangs a 45-44 lead with 16:35 left to play.
Coleman sank a mid-range jumper to give UH its last lead of the night, 51-50, with 14:19 remaining.
The Mustangs took control of the tempo soon after, taking advantage of a few mental mistakes — mainly fouls and turnovers — by the Cougars. An 8-2 run, capped by a Nyakundi free throw, pushed SMU into a 59-53 lead with 9:58 left in regulation.
That’s when Adam Brown (17 points, 5-of-8 3-pointers) entered the game and provided a spark for the Cougars. He made four of his first five 3-point attempts; the last of which evened the game at 71 with 5:17 remaining.