Behind an explosive first half from Tramon Mark and suffocating defense down the stretch, #3 Houston beat UCF, 71-65, in the conference home opener.
The Cougars would take an early lead after forcing UCF to miss its first five shots, but the Golden Knights would respond, hitting five of their next seven shots, taking a 12-9 lead just seven minutes into the game.
On the ensuing possession, Ja’Vier Francis hit a short fadeaway when UCF’s Darius Johnson pulled Tramon Mark to the ground, and a minor scuffle ensued. After a review, the foul was upgraded to a flagrant-one foul, and Mark hit two free throws.
Video of the flagrant-one foul on Tramon Mark. Refs got it right.
Crowd has come alive at the under-12 timeout. pic.twitter.com/z886qtERKG
— GoCoogs.com (@gocoogs1) December 31, 2022
The flagrant completely shifted the momentum and energized Mark, who buried a corner three, helping to spark a 16-2 run. Mark scored 15 of his game-high 19 in 9.5 minutes after the flagrant. UCF called timeout to stop the bleeding with the score at 25-14.
The guard tandem of Mark and Marcus Sasser carried much of the load for the Cougars in the first half, combining to score 29 of the team’s 39 points.
UCF started to chip away at the lead in the last 3 minutes of the first half and started the second half red hot. In all, the Knights went on a 23-6 run to take the lead from the Coogs. After the game, Kelvin Sampson said his team had “the wrong attitude” coming out of the half. UH was sloppy and undisciplined on offense before Marcus Sasser hit a three to put Houston back on top. The Golden Knights would respond with two straight threes of their own to take a 46-42 lead at the under-16 timeout.
Houston’s defense planted its feet and clamped down, forcing four turnovers in quick succession. The teams traded the lead a few times before J’Wan Roberts scored eight-straight points to give the Cougars the lead for good. Roberts said after the game that he was under the weather but still played the second-most minutes of his career.
The Golden Knights continued to battle and climbed within a point, 62-61, with just under three minutes to play. But the UH offense held firm, and UCF did not make a field goal for nearly four minutes down the stretch. Francis, Sasser, and Jamal Shead all hit clutch free throws to extend the lead and ultimately, put the game away.
The Cougars went the last 4:44 without a field goal and struggled with ball movement. UH had only 10 assists on 24 made shots. Sampson attributed that to UCF clogging their pick-and-roll lanes.
“We may not have had our fastball today, but we found a way to win. And that’s what’s important: finding a way to win,” Sampson says about his team.
UH moved to 14-1 overall and put itself in a position to move up to #2 in the AP Poll after UConn’s loss to No. 22 Xavier earlier in the day.