Nixon shoots past SMU

Houston’s 89-77 victory over Southern Methodist on Saturday at Hofheinz Pavilion boasted the kind of offensive efficiency on the perimeter that the Cougars need heading into the Conference USA Tournament.

The Cougars (19-10, 10-6 C-USA) shot 59.1 percent (13-of-22) from behind the arc, receiving major contributions from the usual suspects and a career outing from point guard Zamal Nixon.

Nixon turned in a 21-point, seven-assist performance in the Cougars’ regular-season finale and was responsible for more than half of Houston’s treys, shooting 7-of-9 from three-point territory.

‘Of course, Zamal Nixon contributed, (and) he’s capable of that every single night,’ Houston head coach Tom Penders said. ‘He’s improved tremendously. He’s more in control, and he is a great rhythm shooter. Zamal played an outstanding core game.’

Nixon took Wednesday’s loss to Memphis personally and decided to take his frustrations out on SMU’s guards.

‘I took a lot of the blame for the Memphis loss,’ Nixon said. ‘I wasn’t as productive as I should’ve been. I think if I had this kind of performance in the Memphis game, it would’ve been a ‘W’ in our column.’

Nixon’s ability to distribute the ball and the Cougars’ ability to shoot 58.8 percent from the floor was enough for the win against SMU (9-20, 3-13 C-USA), but they needed help to receive a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Houston, the help didn’t come.

Alabama-Birmingham (21-10, 11-5) and Texas-El Paso (19-11, 10-6) both won their matches Saturday to clinch the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, and the remaining first-round byes, leaving Houston with the fifth seed. The Cougars and Miners finished in a virtual tie for fourth place, but UTEP went 3-0 against Southern Miss and East Carolina, whereas the Cougars went 1-1 and lost the tiebreaker.

As the No. 5 seed in the tournament, Houston will see No. 12 seed SMU for the third time this season at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, meaning Saturday’s 12-point win was just the practice round.

‘That’s a tough task, to beat a team like that three games in a row,’ Penders said. ‘They’re obviously loose and relaxed and not feeling a lot of pressure going into the next game. Hopefully, our kids can feel the same way on Wednesday as we played tonight.’

The Cougars will look to keep their offensive rhythm flowing in Wednesday’s rematch.
‘I didn’t feel like our kids were pressing or in a hurry tonight offensively,’ Penders said. ‘Offense is played best when you’re relaxed and have a certain amount of focus.’

Houston’s leading scorer, Aubrey Coleman, seemed out of rhythm during the first half, but found his stroke in the second stanza. The guard finished with team-highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds after failing to score in the first 20 minutes.

‘He struggled in the first half and yet still ends up with 22 points, shooting 6-of-12 from the floor,’ Penders said. ‘I don’t know how he does it. I’ve never had a guy like that. You’re about ready to tell him to go take a shower, and the next thing you know, he’s hotter than a five-dollar pistol.’

Coleman was not the only player to catch fire in the second half. SMU’s Derek Williams scorched the Cougars for 24 points in the final 20 minutes to end the night with a game-high 32 points.

William’s standout performance, however, was no match for the Cougars’ ability to share the ball. Houston finished with 20 assists and four players with 17 points or more. Guard Kelvin Lewis finished with 19 points, while the suddenly hot Qa’rraan Calhoun chipped in 17 on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor.

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