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Friday, March 23, 2018

Men's Basketball

Gray leads the way over UConn on Senior Day

Senior guard Rob Gray led the Cougars with 30 points in his final game in front of the Houston crowd. | Kathryn Lenihan / The Daily Cougar

Despite playing from behind for most of the second half, the Cougars were able to pull out of their last home game this season with a 81-71 victory over UConn on Sunday night.

The Cougars started the game by starting all four seniors, a senior day tradition, alongside junior guard Galen Robinson.

Right from the opening tip the Cougars looked aggressive and shot 9-for-15 in the first seven minutes to jump out to an early 22-9 lead. It was the biggest lead either team held Sunday night.

Trouble arose as the Cougars started missing their shots when bench unit came, and they had a stretch shooting 6-16. The Huskies cut the lead down to 7.

On top of that, Houston was unable to slow down UConn’s junior guard Jalen Adams later in the first half, as he was able to get into the paint at will, which also opened up his perimeter shot.

Adams led the team with 12 points in the first half and gave the Huskies a one-point advantage going into half.

The Cougars played sloppily and struggled holding on to the ball as they turned the ball over 8 times, leading to 14 points off for the Huskies in the first half.

At halftime, it was clear that the game had turned into a duel between the second and third leading scorers in the conference, Adams and senior guard Rob Gray, who scored 15 points in the first half.

One last push

At the start of the second half, the Cougars switched Robinson to guard Adams instead of junior guard Corey Davis Jr.

The switch proved effective as Robinson kept Adams scoreless for the first seven minutes after halftime.

The Huskies’ defense was also able to come up big by limiting Gray to only one shot attempt in the first nine minutes of the half.

The UConn defense continued to give the Cougars trouble, creating turnovers and converting them to quick fast break scores.

Junior forward Terry Larrier, who had 8 points in the first half, continued his hot shooting with two early three-pointers.

The game slowed down as the referees started to call a lot of fouls, allowing both teams to get in the bonus with nine minutes left to play.

Early in the second half, free throws helped the Huskies maintain their lead, as the made 11 of their first 14 free throws. But in the waning minutes, the Huskies only hit four of their last eight free throws including a pair from Adams.

Houston came back and secured the lead when Gray hit an acrobatic and-one reverse layup to give the Cougars a 67-65 lead with four and a half remaining, before scoring another seven straight points to give the Cougars the lead for good.

The Cougars finished their senior day with a 81-71 victory and improved to 24-6 to take third place in the conference.

Looking ahead

The Cougars finish the season a perfect 15-0 at home, something they haven’t done since the 1983-1984 season.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson praised Gray for his performance after the game.

“The good players have another level to them,” Sampson said. “Rob was on the third or fourth floor today, and then all of a sudden he jumped up to the tenth floor, and when he did that, the game changed for us.”

After the win, Gray explained how the game would help the Cougars going into the AAC tournament.

“This is tournament basketball, and that’s what we’re preparing for,” Gray said. “We’re still ring hunting… the only way for us to get a ring now is the conference tournament, and we want to go down there and win three games and go on a roll heading into the NCAA tournament.”

The conference tournament starts on Thursday with the fifth through 12th seeds playing in the first round. Houston, which starts in the second round, will first play against the winner of East Carolina and Central Florida at 8 p.m. Friday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

If Houston advances to the semifinals or championship, the team will play on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m, and both games will be shown on CBS.

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