Season comes to close after late rally falls short
Despite a sluggish start to their second-round College Basketball Invitational matchup with George Mason — going scoreless in the first three minutes of play — the Cougars managed to fight their way to overtime before losing 88-84.
After winning their first nonconference postseason game since 1998 Wednesday against in-state rival Texas, the UH traveled to Fairfax, Va., for its first matchup with the Patriots. George Mason, led by junior guard Sherrod Wright’s 29 points, proved too much for UH, despite strong efforts from sophomore guard Joseph Young and sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas.
Thomas performed well, notching his 16th double-double of the season with 24 points and 17 rebounds.
He contributed three assists, two steals and a block. It would not be enough to stave off the Patriots’ blitz from behind the line.
As a team, the Patriots connected on half of their 22 attempts from long range, led by Wright with four.
George Mason freshman guard Patrick Holloway sunk three of his six attempts, showcasing NBA range by launching all three from well outside the college 3-point line.
The Cougars were a different story, taking 17 shots from long distance and making only 4 of them for just less than 24 percent on the night. Until 15 minutes had elapsed in the second half, Houston had hit only a single three.
Then Young caught fire, hitting 3-pointers on three consecutive trips down the floor to bring Houston from down six 70-64 to within one, 74-73.
Young turned around his slow start in the contest, eventually racking up 21 points on 16 shot attempts and converting four of his five shots from the charity stripe.
Freshman center Valentine Izundu earned some meaningful minutes Monday and controlled the paint defensively when on the floor — including a block that led to a UH layup for its first lead of the game.
Izundu struggled from the line though, with three attempts and no makes.
Young and Thomas did not get much help.
Redshirt freshman Jherrod Stiggers, who has ignited the Cougar offense in several games this season with timely scoring, was 1-9 from the floor and did not make any of his five 3-point attempts.
Senior forward Leon Gibson tallied as many personal fouls as points, two, despite passing to Thomas and freshman forward Danuel House. House was effective with 13 points on 3-6 shooting, but he missed three of his nine free throws.
With the final margin at four points and the contest within one or two points for much of the end of regulation and overtime, missed free throws could haunt the Cougars all offseason. UH made only 16 of its 24 attempts from the foul line for 67 percent, which left enough points on the table to be the deciding factor in the match.
The Cougars are young, though, and with the exception of Gibson, the entire roster will return next season with high hopes.
Conference USA Freshman of the Year House and first-team Conference USA honoree Thomas will attempt to help the Cougars build on their successes this season and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in March.