Houston, Nixon topple Tulane

Eric Vianney didn’t have a prayer. Not this night. Not when Zamal Nixon was feeling it this much.

Nixon sized up his man, started his dribble, crossed the ball over to his right and transitioned into a hesitation move.

With the Tulane guard frozen in a dazed state of confusion, the Cougars’ crossover-artist put the finishing touches on his masterpiece. Nixon switched back to his dominant hand with the quickness and precision of a seasoned racer working the clutch, shifter and throttle on the drag strip.

Nixon’s defender was left in the dust, leaving Nixon with a clear path to the basket. He elevated, double-clutched and rolled the ball off his fingers for a layup – another thing of beauty.

The point guard used plays like this to score a season-high 23 points in Houston’s 83-64 win over Tulane before a crowd of 3,243 on Saturday at Hofheinz Pavilion.

‘I was actually going to dunk the other one, but he smacked it out of my hand,’ Nixon said with a noticeable air of confidence after his breakout game. ‘So I just had to finger roll it over the basket. The crowd was kind of like ‘ooh’ because they were expecting me to dunk it.’

The Cougars improved to 16-7 and 7-3 in Conference USA, moving into a tie with Alabama-Birmingham for second place behind conference frontrunner Memphis. Tulane fell to 10-14 overall and 4-7 in C-USA.

But the Cougars might not have won by such a large margin had it not been for Nixon.

Cougars head coach Tom Penders had said he wanted to see Nixon shoot more after his highly efficient seven-assist, one-turnover performance in Wednesday’s 69-56 win over Southern Methodist. Against Tulane, Nixon was given a chance to show how much of an offensive threat he can be when he is assertive.

Guard Aubrey Coleman committed his fourth personal foul only four minutes into the second half. Houston’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder could not get in a rhythm and finished the night with season-lows of two points and seven minutes. His previous season-low in minutes was 17 against Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 13.

Houston needed someone to step up.

‘We played without him (Coleman) and won,’ Penders said. ‘Two weeks ago, I think that would have been impossible. That’s great for the team. That’s great for Aubrey to see that. Now with the improved play of Zamal Nixon and some of the other guys, (we are a different team).’

Kelvin Lewis, who was experiencing a shooting slump, also received a bit of a confidence boost after scoring 11 of his 16 points in the second half.

Lewis, who also doubles as Houston’s primary defender, played a huge role in Houston’s second-half runs, shooting 3-for-4 from behind the three-point line.

‘I just worry about playing defense; it just so happens that the offense is coming,’ Lewis said. ‘It’s been a tough couple of games, but I’m working through it. I’m working my behind off. It’s paying off.’

Forward Nick Mosely also played well in 10 minutes off the bench. He finished with eight points, shooting 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

The Cougars entered the second half with a 39-21 lead. Tulane, however, outscored the Cougars 20-8 in the first nine minutes of the second half to reduce its deficit to six points with 11:12 left in the game.

The Cougars, however, quickly retaliated, going on a two-minute, 9-2 run, capped by an alley-oop dunk by forward Qa’rraan Calhoun, who was assisted by Wade. Calhoun’s dunk gave the Cougars a 58-43 lead with 9:18 remaining, and Tulane would not recover.

UH hits the road to face Marshall at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, W. Va.

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