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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Men's Basketball

UH win over SMU a pivotal one for Cougars’ season

UH forward Justin Gorham fights off an SMU player as both look up at the basket for a potential rebound during the 2019-20 season. In Sunday's game between UH and SMU, Gorham had a career-high 19 rebounds in the Cougars' win. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

UH forward Justin Gorham fights off a SMU player as both look up at the basket for a potential rebound during the 2019-20 season. In Sunday’s game between UH and SMU, Gorham had a career-high 19 rebounds in the Cougars’ win. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

No. 5 Houston’s 74-60 win in Dallas on Sunday evening over SMU, ending its perfect start to the 2020-21 season, was an example of the Cougars’ culture.

A phrase that has been constantly used by both players and coaches this season, but one that seems to be the only fit to describe the win.

“We take pride in bouncing back from losses,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson. “Every season you’re going to have a pivotal game. We talked about that (Saturday). This was one of those pivotal games that have kind of defined our program over the last three years. Last four, five years actually.”

Following a last-second loss to Tulsa, UH had another tough task ahead. It needed to go on the road, for the third straight game, and face yet another American Athletic Conference foe.

Early in the contest, the Cougars’ frequent flier miles seemed were displayed as they mustered up only 12 points after almost 10 minutes into the first half, but they managed to keep the Mustangs to only 13 points themselves.

The same SMU team entered Sunday’s contest with the No. 1 scoring offense in the AAC, averaging 84.2 points per game.

“It’s no fun playing three straight road games,” Sampson said. “We might be the only team in America that plays three straight road games in conference play.”

Eventually, the scoring picked up, but UH still found itself down one at halftime. Once the second half began, however, the Cougars took control. They scored the first 10 points in the period, building a nine-point lead they never relinquished.

While SMU made runs and managed to get within four points, UH always seemed to have an answer, and more often than not, senior forward Justin Gorham was somewhere in the middle of a sea of bodies and was responsible for it.

The Columbia, Maryland, native gobbled up 13 rebounds in the second half alone, six of which were on offense. He ended the night with a new career-high, 19 boards. 

“I love that kid,” Sampson said. “He embodies our spirit. His toughness is his greatest strength.” 

For the UH head coach, Gorham’s production was a big reason the Cougars won. Sampson credited him and senior guard DeJon Jarreau for keeping the team within striking distance in the first half.

“(Gorham’s) a tremendous role model for a lot of kids,” Sampson said. “You don’t have to be a five-star talented guy to be productive. There’s a lot of guys that never had 19 rebounds in a game. Justin is a winner. It’s a blessing to be able to coach him. He represents that we value in our culture.”

In the second half, guards Marcus Sasser and Quentin Grimes were able to pick up the slack offensively after a lackluster start and did enough to keep SMU at bay.

Sasser scored 12 of his 17 points in the second period, and Grimes scored all 11 of his in the same span.

With the Cougars not set to play again until Wednesday when they host Wichita State, they get more time to rest and focus on themselves.

The five-day period in between the Tulsa and SMU contest played a factor in Sunday’s matchup, the UH coach said.

“After the Tulsa game, not having to play until Sunday was a blessing,” Sampson said. 

Particularly for the players that were returning from COVID-19, the head coach added.

While UH (8-1, 3-1 AAC) is only about a quarter of the way done with its conference schedule, Sunday’s victory was one the Cougars are thrilled to have. Especially off the heels of the loss to the Golden Hurricane.

“It’s a big win no question about it,” Sampson said. “Winning two out of three on the road is a huge accomplishment. I’m proud of this team.”

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