The No. 3 Houston Cougars overcame punch after punch thrown by Cincinnati and rallied for a late-game win, thanks to the heroics of Jamal Shead and Jarace Walker. Walker’s career-best 25 points helped Houston crawl out of an 11-point deficit midway through the second half and pull out a 75-69 win.
The Cougars came out flat to start the game once again. And once again, an opponent took advantage. The Bearcats started the game 7-of-9 from the floor, making their first five shots from three. However, Kelvin Sampson called timeout as soon as the fifth one hit the bottom of the net as UC surged to a 19-6 lead.
Houston cut the lead to single digits multiple times, but Cincinnati kept responding. The Cougars were thoroughly outworked on the boards and made uncharacteristic mistakes on both sides of the ball.
UH came out of the under-8 timeout down 32-19 when the offense finally began to click. UH started moving the ball better, got better shots, and hit six in a row to cut the lead to four, highlighted by a rim-rocking alley-oop from Shead to the big freshman.
But the energy was sucked from the arena as UC’s Mika Adams-Woods hit a half-court bomb as time expired, and the Bearcats went to the locker room up 43-36. The 43 points were the most Houston had surrendered in a first half all season as Cincinnati went a scorching 8/12 from beyond the arc. Houston quietly shot 57% in the first half (16/28) in the first 20 minutes.
After the break, UH scored two quick buckets and started to build some momentum, but a flagrant foul on Jamal Shead allowed Cincinnati to respond quickly. After a Roberts hook shot, Shead was called for a blocking foul inside the restricted area, and the bucket and free throw pushed the Bearcat lead to eight at 50-42.
UH continued to find good shots, but Cincinnati’s Landers Nolley II was borderline unguardable, hitting big shot after big shot. Nolley finished as the Bearcat’s leading scorer with 24 points, going 6-10 from deep. After Nolley’s sixth three, UH found themselves down 11 with under 12 minutes to play. But that’s when the UH defense clamped down.
Over the final 11:28, Cincinnati was held to 2/16 shooting (12.5%). Shead hit twice, then Jarace hit two tough jumpers. Two free throws from Emanuel Sharp cut the lead to two before a J’Wan Roberts bucket tied it at 62. After a make at the other end from Nolley, Jarace hit two free throws to knot it again. Walker made another turnaround jumper – a tough hook – and one of two free throws on the next trip. After a Nolley miss, Shead found J’Wan Roberts for a slam and a five-point lead.
But the Bearcats refused to roll over, coming back to tie the game at 69 with just over a minute left. Shead took the game into his own hands on the ensuing Houston possession. Shead drove to his left as the shot clock wound down, faded away, and buried a go-ahead mid-ranger with 47 seconds to go.
Cincinnati took the ball out, and Houston played their best defensive possession, forcing a shot clock violation with 17 seconds left. Houston would hang on for the win, their 20th of the season and eighth in conference play.
The hard-fought win saw the Coogs shoot 57% from the floor but were just 6/12 from the free-throw line before Shead and Sasser hit four in the final 14 seconds to ice the game.
The Cougars gritted their teeth and showed a toughness they perhaps had not shown all season, winning the final game of their 3-game, 7-day stretch. Jarace Walker finished as the game’s leading scorer and rebounder with a career-high 25 points on 10-14 shooting and seven boards, playing his most complete game as a Cougar.
After the game, Kelvin Sampson praised Shead and Walker for their toughness and how they competed in the second half. “It’s not easy to be 20-2,” he said, “because of how good these other teams are.”
“We recruit winners.”