Herd stampedes Houston’s defense

Things just got a lot more difficult for a young Houston team with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

No matter how athletic and deceptively talented Marshall may be as a basketball team, Houston (16-8, 7-4 Conference USA) could not afford the 88-83 loss it suffered to a team with a losing record Wednesday at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, W. Va.

Houston head coach Tom Penders will not let his team dwell on the unforeseen loss in the middle of the hunt for seeding in the C-USA Tournament.

‘We’ve got to put this one behind us,’ Penders said. ‘We’re 16-8. We’re in the hunt for a top 2 or 3 seed, and that’s got to be our focus. It’s disappointing to lose a basketball game, but I thought Marshall played great tonight.’

With the Cougars trailing 86-83 and 12 seconds left in the game, Marshall double-teamed a three-point screen set for guard Kelvin Lewis at the top of the key. Lewis was trapped and needed an outlet, so he tried to dish the ball to center Marcus Cousin in the paint, but the pass was off target.

Houston was forced to foul, sending Marshall forward Markel Humphrey to the free-throw line. Humphrey reached his team-high 25 points by knocking down both shots, putting the contest out of reach.

The Thundering Herd outscored the Cougars 11-3 in the final 2:40 of the game by taking advantage of free throws and points in the paint.

Marshall (12-14, 4-7 C-USA) hit 23 of 32 shots from the foul line and shot a ridiculously high 58.5 percent from the floor, forcing the Cougars to play a near-perfect game of basketball down the stretch. Marshall’s ability to knock down 31 of 53 shot attempts negated an offensive explosion by one of the Cougars’ most dynamic players.

‘We did not play the kind of defense we had been playing,’ Penders said. ‘They had 15 layups in the second half out of 16 buckets. Our interior defense was lacking tonight.’

Houston did not have a bad night shooting the ball, making 49.2 percent of its field goal attempts.

The Cougars were led by guard Aubrey Coleman, who took out the frustrations of a foul plagued, low-playing time game against Tulane on a Marshall squad, who could do little to stop Houston’s offensive juggernaut.

Coleman finished the game with a career-high 38 points and also contributed four steals in the losing effort.

The emergence of point guard Zamal Nixon as a viable threat in the offensive game had been a key component in Houston’s four-game winning streak heading into Wednesday’s game. However, foul trouble and a sprained ankle he suffered in the second half only allowed him to contribute 18 minutes and four points.

The loss dropped the Cougars into a tie for third in C-USA with Tulsa and Texas-El Paso.

Starting the game hot was not a problem for either team. In a first half characterized by lead changes and a run and gun style of basketball, the Cougars entered the second half with a 46-42 lead, thanks to two Coleman jumpers in the final two minutes. Neither team managed to gain more than seven points of separation in the first 20 minutes.

UH will try to get back on track when it hosts Central Florida at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hofheinz Pavilion.

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