CINCINNATI — No. 21 Houston, who went into the game first in the American Athletic Conference, dropped its Saturday night road matchup 62-64 at Cincinnati in an electric Fifth Third Arena.
The Cougars, who are now 17-5 overall and 7-2 in the AAC, fell to the Bearcats after a strong second half from Cincinnati blindsided Houston.
Cincinnati surged into an early 4-0 lead to start the game, a rematch of the 2019 AAC Championship Game that the Bearcats won 69-57.
But the Cougars had an answer by the name of Marcus Sasser.
The freshman guard, who finished the game with 17 points, sunk two 3-pointers before the under-16 timeout to tie the game at eight.
After two Nate Hinton free throws less than 30 seconds later, the first half became the Houston show.
The Cougars took a commanding 10-point lead into the locker room ahead 40-30 over the Bearcats.
Cincinnati guard Jarron Cumberland, who head coach Kelvin Sampson said is “just a monster,” played well in the half, but his efforts were not enough to keep the Bearcats from going down big in the first 20 minutes.
Cumberland, a senior, scored a quiet 13 points, making up almost half of his squad’s offensive production in the half.
The tides turned in the second half in Cincinnati’s favor, however, with the Bearcats storming back to take the lead over the Cougars, whose offense slowed down greatly.
Houston was outscored 34-22 in the second half, and guard DeJon Jarreau’s ejection with a little over six minutes to play for biting did not help.
The junior was issued a flagrant 2 technical after officials determined he bit a Cincinnati player during a loose ball scrum.
The Cougars’ woes did not stop there.
Junior forward Fabian White Jr. joined Jarreau in the locker room after fouling out with 2:36 to play, and sophomore guard Quentin Grimes went down hard shortly afterward and limped to the bench with the help of a trainer.
The Cougars went over four minutes towards the end of the game without scoring and made just one of their last 15 shots.