Cougars fight through Bearcats in thriller
The two powerhouses of the AAC squared off on the hardwood Sunday as the No. 12 Cougars clawed its way to a 65-58 win over the No. 25 Cincinnati Bearcats.
Cincinnati led for a brief 30 seconds at 5-4 in the opening minutes, but Houston soon took over, maintaining a small lead for the majority of the first half.
The successful performance by the bench unit was critical for Houston early on, as they accounted for 19 of the team’s 34 first-half points.
“They’re not reliant on their starting five. Their bench is a big separator for them,” said Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin.
The Cougars controlled the game until a pair of free throws by junior Nysier Brooks granted the Bearcats a short-lived one-point lead before senior Corey Davis Jr. drove hard and earned a trip to the line to close the half.
Davis Jr. was the focal point for the Houston offense throughout the first 20 minutes and finished the half with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting to go with a pair of rebounds and an assist.
“I think Corey Davis is one of the best guards in the country,” Cronin said.
The Cougars’ defensive intensity to start the second half was off the charts, as the Bearcats only connected on one of its first eight shot attempts across almost seven minutes of play.
Even with a rocky start to the half, Cincinnati refused to go away. Houston never led by more than a pair of buckets throughout the second half and desperately clung to its small lead until the final buzzer.
Redshirt sophomore DeJon Jarreau led the bench brigade onslaught and did it all for the Cougars.
Cincinnati trailed Houston 63-58 in the final minute of play and had a chance to creep closer, but the smothering Cougar defense forced a crucial turnover and sealed the game.
“Defense is a big part of our DNA. Not just on game nights, that’s how we practice,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “Out-rebounding teams, defending whatever action it may be. I thought we did a great job.”
Houston improves to a nation-best 23-1 with the victory over Cincinnati and now claims sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the AAC.
The Cougars’ next game will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Connecticut.