Men's Basketball

Cougars pull out close season-opening win

The Kelvin Sampson era began Friday as the Cougars traveled to Murray, KY to take on the Murray State Racers. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the first half, the UH men’s basketball team showed their heart and guts as they battled back to win 77-74.

Basketball is a game of runs, and that was evident in the season opener as the Cougars fell behind by 11 points on two occasions late in the first half. They closed out the opening period on an 8-3 run, entering half time only down 42-38. Houston would eventually go on to tie the game, only to watch Murray State respond with an 11-2 run of its own across the next four and a half minutes.

With both teams effectively trading blows back and forth, this game came down to the last few possessions. The Cougars tried to pull away with 12-2 run led by junior Devonta Pollard who had six of his 19 points during the run. The burst gave Houston a 72-66 lead, which was the largest for the Cougars all night.

The Racers wouldn’t go quietly. Jarvis Williams sank a pair of free throws and, after a Houston turnover, Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year Cameron Payne hit a jumper to move Murray State to within 76-74 with 60 seconds left.

At the line and up three, the Cougars had a chance to put the dagger in Murray State and ice the game with seven seconds left. However, Houston missed the first attempt and after a couple of frantic tip-in tries around the basket, Murray State grabbed the loose ball and heaved it down the court for a last-second, game-tying attempt.

Fortunately for the Cougars, the three-pointer was off the mark and Houston would go on to win their 10th season-opener in the last 11 years and their first season-opening win on the road since 2006 at Rhode Island.

Pollard was the high scoring man for the Cougars in his Houston debut, scoring 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, while going 7-7 from the free throw line.

Junior guard Jherrod Stiggers added 17 points, including three 3-pointers, with five rebounds, while junior guard Cavon Baker totaled 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Making his collegiate debut, freshman forward JC Washington led the Cougars with eight rebounds, including seven off the defensive glass.

The Cougars return to Hofheinz Pavilion to open their home schedule against the Morgan State Bears on Nov. 22.

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