Men's Basketball Sports

UH guards step up in lieu of J’Wan Roberts’ injury

Anh Le/The Cougar

Houston played 32 minutes and 56 seconds of its Big 12 semifinal game against No. 25 Texas Tech without a true forward on the court.

UH had begun the season with three forwards at its disposal: J’Wan Roberts, Terrance Arceneaux and Ramon Walker. After Arceneaux and Walker each suffered season-ending injuries, Roberts — a redshirt senior starter who serves as the team’s defensive leader — was left as the only forward available on the roster.

But when Roberts went down with a shin contusion on Friday night, the Cougars were left with only guards and centers on the floor while their heart and soul limped back to the locker room.

Roberts tried twice to come back into the game, but he couldn’t stay on the court longer than a few minutes. UH saw its 15-point lead shrink all the way down to three at halftime, and just a couple minutes into the second half, Texas Tech had tied it at 37. When Roberts exited the game for good with 16:53 left to play, Houston clung to a 40-38 lead.

That’s when everything flipped.

The Cougars broke the game wide open with a 20-1 run that saw Texas Tech go scoreless for nearly six minutes with all but two of those 20 points coming from UH’s guards.

“Just staying together. We lost one of our leaders,” said redshirt senior guard Mylik Wilson. “As guards, we just had to come together, stay strong and go get the boards.”

For a nine-and-a-half minute span from Roberts’ substitution to the 7:28 mark in the second half, the Cougars outscored Texas Tech 30-5 as L.J. Cryer and Emanuel Sharp combined to go 6-for-9 from three-point range in the second half. UH forced eight turnovers in that stretch.

For a brief moment, head coach Kelvin Sampson turned to an all-guard lineup midway through the half, the first time he’s done it all season.

“Coach just threw Damian in for Ja’Vier and he was just like, ‘Rebound. And if y’all don’t, there’s going to be consequences,'” said senior guard Jamal Shead. “And we rebounded and it worked out pretty well.”

After grabbing 13 rebounds combined in Thursday’s game against TCU, along with just two offensive boards, the Cougars’ guards improved that number to 19 and six respectively — a much-needed bump with Roberts out.

Shead himself bounced back from a shaky first half to score eight points and six assists in the second, attributing his and his team’s turnaround to a simple attitude adjustment.

“Our attitude wasn’t right at the end of the first half and kind of to start the second half,” Shead said. “But once our attitude became what it needed to be and our effort picked up, we’re as good as anybody.”

It was another gritty win in a season full of them for the Cougars. Between early losses in Big 12 play, plenty of hostile road environments and a slew of injuries, Houston has been able to stay together through all of it.

I told them my leg hurt a little and they were like ‘I got you,'” Roberts said. “It shows how good our team is when adversity hits. It’s just about everybody having each other’s back.”

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