Many players would dream of a homecoming like the one put together by UH senior guard Jamal Shead on Monday night. An Austin-area native and the floor general of the No. 4 Houston Cougars, Shead returned home to face the Texas Longhorns in what became a hard-fought overtime battle defined largely by his unrelenting resilience on both sides of the basketball.
“When you’re in it you don’t worry about it being your hometown,” Shead said after the game. “You just try to win it for your teammates.”
The first several minutes went back and forth, with Texas opening the scoring and UH routinely answering. Offensive gaffes for both the Cougars and the Longhorns also defined the early stages including an airball from both teams, a missed dunk by the Longhorns and an offensive foul from Shead.
The scoring trends of the early minutes continued well into the half. With Houston narrowly leading 11-10 at the 11:34 mark of the first half, the Cougars had shot just 4 for 12 from the field. The Longhorns shot at a similar 4 for 13 clip.
Houston’s scrappy defense eventually began to pay off as Texas hit a scoreless wall for over two minutes, part of a greater stretch where the Longhorns went just 1 for 8 from the field.
Shead contributed seven consecutive UH points and assisted on another field goal on the subsequent UH run to put the Cougars ahead by double-digits.
Texas found its way out of its slump and rejuvenated the home crowd but Houston’s offense did not slow down either. The squads went bucket-for-bucket as the half winded down, with Texas getting a dunk in the closing seconds of the half to cut Houston’s lead down to a single-digit 33-25 margin.
Houston’s star guards were the story of the first half. Shead scored 11 points in the half on 5 for 9 shooting while senior guard L.J. Cryer followed closely behind with nine points at a 4 for 9 clip. The guards were the top two scorers across both teams in the first twenty minutes.
Senior forward J’Wan Roberts and junior forward Ja’Vier Francis each pulled in five rebounds in the first half.
Texas was held to shooting 23% from behind the arc through the first half.
Out of the break Texas found a new offensive rhythm, intent on cutting further into UH’s lead. A pair of three-pointers gave UH space momentarily but a subsequent 7-0 run from the Longhorns cut the score down to 41-37.
UH continued to struggle after a timeout. Texas pulled within one possession on a three-pointer, and while UH broke the Texas run on a Roberts layup, its shooting from the field continued to waver.
The Texas run continued as Texas pulled ahead on a sequence of three consecutive layups from sophomore forward Dillion Mitchell.
With the Longhorns narrowly ahead 48-46 with ten minutes remaining, the Cougars had to make something happen.
A layup from Shead tied the game back at 48 but that layup became the springboard for another Texas run, this one 6-0. With just over eight minutes remaining, Houston now trailed by six points.
As has been the case more than a few times this year, Houston’s point guard had his number called.
UH goes from down by six to up by three in less than a minute and a half as Shead and sophomore guard Emanuel Sharp score a few points in.
Still, Texas had its answers, keeping the margin razor-thin with under five minutes left to play.
Three minutes remained and the game was locked even at 59-59.
The Cougars were dealt a crushing blow as Roberts fell to the floor in pain on a Texas possession.
A second blow was dealt moments later as Shead was called for a foul near mid-court. After two makes from the line, Texas moved ahead 63-59 giving Houston a small mountain to climb.
Shead scored a layup on the next possession to put UH back within a possession. After, Francis was fouled which made both from the line to tie the game back up with under two minutes left.
A pair of free throws in Texas’ favor moved the Longhorns back ahead. A put-back from Roberts, now back in the game, tied things again.
With under a minute left to play in regulation, a mid-range miss from Shead put Texas on the fastbreak. Shead once again made up for a previous blunder, snatching a Texas pass to get possession for the Cougars who called a timeout with 21 seconds left.
Shead took the ball from behind the arc, throwing up an airball that gave Texas possession with less than three seconds left on the clock. A Texas Hail Mary bounced off the glass and Moody Center headed to overtime.
Both teams came out of the overtime gate with heightened intensity on defense. Houston had the lone point in the first two and a half minutes of the extra period, a free throw made from Roberts to make the score 66-65.
Cryer got to the line next and knocked down both shots to put Houston ahead by three points with just over two minutes left in overtime.
Texas drew a foul from Francis on its next possession, giving Francis his fifth foul and forcing him out of the game. The Longhorns hit both free throws to move within one point.
Houston advanced down the court and Cryer missed a jumper that led to freshman forward Joseph Tugler, who had only just subbed in for Francis, to rise up for a resounding putback dunk. Texas made both free throws on the next possession to tie things again before Roberts made a layup to move Houston ahead 72-70 with 37 seconds remaining.
Out of a Texas timeout, the Longhorns threw up a miss that was rebounded by Sharp forcing Texas to foul him with eleven seconds left and Houston ahead. Sharp hit both free throws to put the Cougars ahead by four.
Texas threw up another desperate three attempt, this one also a miss. The Longhorns won the rebound effort and threw up another three, this one a miss but with contact from Shead knocking the guard out of the game with his fifth foul.
Texas made two of its three from the line, missing the third and going for the offensive board in desperation. Sharp came down with the rebound, getting fouled with just under two seconds remaining and hitting both free throws to ice the game.
One final Hail Mary from Texas and the final overtime buzzer sounded with Houston winning 76-72.
With the win the No. 4 Houston Cougars move to 19-2 on the season and 6-2 in the Big 12 Conference. Next up on its schedule is perhaps UH’s biggest test yet in a Saturday afternoon matchup with No. 8 Kansas at the Allen Fieldhouse.