Houston squandered a 15-point second-half lead and fell to #8 Alabama, 71-65. The top-ranked Cougars fell in its first game hosting a top-10 matchup. After UH raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second half, the Crimson Tide outscored the Cougars 52-21 over the last 16+ minutes.
Alabama mass subbed once UH went up 15, replacing four starters. Kelvin Sampson said afterward that it was the turning point in the game.
“We did a great job guarding their actions,” Kelvin Sampson said after the game. “Then they took their four starters out and put their bench guys in, and then they stopped running actions. They just drove it at us.
UH’s half-court offense struggled for much of the game, shooting just 20% to start. Alabama dominated the boards early, but the Cougar defense forced seven turnovers to keep them in the game. J’Wan Roberts hit a hook shot to give the Coogs their first lead, 15-14. From there, the teams both picked it up offensively, trading leads nine times in the final 7:13 of the half.
Jamal Shead played a gritty game, scoring 10 points in the first half as a goggled Marcus Sasser came up empty from the floor. Shead hit multiple tough shots before the half, including a runner to beat the shot clock. Tramon Mark stole a bad pass and gave it up to Shead for a posterizing dunk on Noah Gurley.
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Soon after, Shead repaid Mark, dishing to him for UH’s only three-pointer of the first half. The Cougars went to the locker room with a 31-27 lead.
Houston came out charged up and took a 15-point lead thanks to two buckets from Sasser and three-pointers from Mark and Shead. The two made shots were Sasser’s only two of the game. Jarace Walker stole a bad pass from Mark Sears and took it in for a layup to put the Coogs up 44-29. Fertitta Center was rocking.
And that’s when Alabama coach Nate Oates benched four starters. The Tide coach decided to use their athleticism instead of their playbook to take Houston out of rhythm. Bama put more pressure on the Cougar offense while going right at them on the other side of the floor. Houston was called for six fouls in four minutes, including three on Tramon Mark, that took them completely out of sorts. Mark went from three to five fouls in just five seconds which, changing the tenor of the game. When he was called for his fifth with just over 8 minutes left, the 15-point lead was down to six.
The game continued getting more physical as the Cougars struggled to get off good shots. Heading into the final media timeout, UH led 62-60. From there, Alabama outscored the Cougars 11-3.
Jamal Shead led all scorers with 19 points, while J’Wan Roberts was solid, blocking five shots and gobbling up nine rebounds. The Cougars fall to 9-1 and will almost assuredly relinquish the #1 ranking on Monday.