No. 2 UH withstands Memphis’ second-half push for seventh straight win
Building and taking the lead into the half has not been an issue for No. 2 Houston.
Not taking its foot off the gas early to maintain a lead is what UH has emphasized down the homestretch of the regular season.
UH faced another test on Sunday afternoon against Memphis as its 11-point halftime lead quickly dwindled down to four just minutes into the second half.
“I thought (Memphis) came back because we made a couple of bonehead plays,” said UH head coach Sampson. “Don’t throw the ball away. We’re wearing white today, fellas. Throw it to the ones it white. That would help.”
Instead of allowing things to further crumble, UH responded with a 9-2 run and held on to its lead down the stretch to defeat Memphis 72-64 in front of a record-breaking Fertitta Center crowd of 7,730.
“We did a good job staying composed (during Memphis’ run) and then coming back and getting our run,” said senior guard Marcus Sasser.
Sasser finished with 20 points, including going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half.
Sitting at 13-1 in AAC play, UH (25-2) can clinch a share of the league’s regular-season title with a win over Tulane on Wednesday night
J’Wan Roberts was a force for the Cougars down low, scoring a career-high 20 and grabbing 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
“Sometimes to get J’Wan going, I call his number a lot,” Sampson said. “J’Wan is a really really good basketball player.”
It didn’t matter that it took a while for UH to get its offense because of the clinic it put up on the defensive end of the floor, forcing 14 Memphis first-half turnovers which turned into 16 Cougars’ points.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, Sasser broke a 13-13 tie with a corner 3, his first points of the game, which sparked a 9-0 UH run.
While the opportunities for a breakaway stretch to put the game out of reach were there at multiple points during the second half, nothing ever materialized for the Cougars.
“We had a lot of good looks that could have extended (the lead),” Sampson said. “We’d miss an open 3, they’d go down and drive it and get to the free throw line.”
Despite being without guard Kendric Davis, who is averaging 21.3 points and 5.8 assists per game, due to a right ankle injury, Memphis hung around.
Led by Elijah McCadden, who finished with 20 points, and DeAndre Williams, who had 18 points before fouling out with 1:10 left, the Tigers cut the Cougars’ lead back down to five points with just over a minute left.
UH did just enough to hold on down the stretch, making nine of its 10 late-game free throws to seal the win.
Jamal Shead had 10 points, shooting 5-for-8 from the field.
While Sampson was the first to admit the win was not pretty, he was encouraged that his team yet again found a way to win despite not playing its A-game.
“The makeup is the team is winners,” Sampson said. “These kids know how to win. That’s what these kids do. They win.”
UH, having won seven straight and 16 of its last 17 games, could jump back to No. 1 in the AP poll for the third time this season when it is released on Monday morning with top-ranked Alabama and third-ranked Purdue both losing earlier in the week.