UH knocks off Knights

Houston desperately needed Saturday’s 77-72 win over Central Florida at Hofheinz Pavilion for obvious reasons.

The Cougars (17-8, 8-4 Conference USA) are in the midst of a race for priority seeding in the conference tournament. They wanted to bounce back from a shocking loss at Marshall on Wednesday, and they need to head into the C-USA Tournament as a 20-win team to keep their postseason aspirations alive.

Those motives are all equally significant.

For Houston head coach Tom Penders, however, his team’s victory over the Golden Knights (16-10, 6-6 C-USA) was all about quality.

The Cougars were forced to fight and execute to near perfection on the court in order to trump a Jermaine Taylor-led Golden Knight team looking to avenge a 97-69 thrashing handed to it by UH on Feb. 4 in Orlando, Fla.

‘Those kind of games give you a whole lot more going into your next game than some blowout,’ Penders said. ‘I don’t care whether it’s the NBA or college, as a coach you know how important it is.

‘This is a new team. We’ve got a lot of guys going through this rodeo for the first time and its good to win these kind, because we’ve lost a few of them too, and that can be shattering to some of these kids.’ ‘ ‘ ‘

The Challenge

Guard Aubrey Coleman was not going to back down from Taylor’s late second-half challenge. Coleman and Taylor, two of C-USA’s top players, left the fans with quite a show.

Within the final three minutes, the two playmakers battled back and forth, trying to give their teams the edge. Coleman had four points, one steal and one assist during that span.

Taylor scored eight of his game-high 35 points during this span to cut his team’s deficit to 69-67 with 2:43 remaining. He added a three-pointer less than a minute later to cut Houston’s lead to 71-70.

That, however, would be as close as the Golden Knights would get to victory.

Lewis to the rescue

Though Coleman finished the game with team-highs of 28 points and 13 rebounds, there was a time in the second half when the Cougars needed someone else to step in and produce to keep them in the game.

Kelvin Lewis caught fire at the right time.

The sharp-shooting guard drained three consecutive treys within a minute and a half, solely accounting for a 9-2 Houston run. Lewis finished the run with a shot from the corner to give his team a 62-56 lead with 6:12 remaining.

Lewis, who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, also came through in the clutch, knocking down two free throws with 16 seconds left to give Houston a 77-72 lead and effectively close out the game.

‘Kelvin hit three huge threes that just broke the game open,’ Penders said. ‘And I’m so happy for him because he’s been carrying a huge load mentally, as all scorers do when they go into slumps.

‘Even though he slumped for 30-something minutes of this game, he came up huge and made three threes and both free throws.’

Another spectacular play came at the end of the first half when Coleman penetrated and kicked it out to a wide-open DaShaun Williams, who was waiting in the corner. Williams’ shot clanged off the rim and traveled just beyond the three-point line as time was about to expire.

In a single motion, Coleman jumped to catch the long rebound and released the ball just before the buzzer sounded. The highly improvised trey went in off the backboard, leaving everyone inside Hofheinz in a state of shock.

Houston went into the half with a 39-35 lead thanks to that shot, which put the finishing touches on Coleman’s 16-point, first-half performance.

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