Coogs surge past Hofstra thanks to late rally

Story by Ryan Monceaux
 
After celebrating the 2021 Final Four run with a banner unveiling, the Houston Cougars were snapped back into reality by a tenacious Hofstra program. In the end, the Coogs survived a 12-round slugfest, finally winning in overtime 83-75.

UH trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half but chipped away over the last eight minutes. With 30 seconds left, Jamal Shead stole the ball and fed it to Taze Moore in the corner for the tying three-pointer. UH never trailed in the overtime period and won going away.

“The thing that frustrated me the most is I got a brand-new team. Everybody thinks you are better than you actually are until you see what I have seen the last month,” Kelvin Sampson explained after the game. “We are going to struggle until we find an identity.

“Now we found an identity in the last 6 minutes. We didn’t have one the first 34. Was I surprised at that? Of course not.”

Before overtime, UH’s last lead was 3-2 in the first two minutes of the game and the Cougars trailed for nearly 37 minutes in regulation. Anytime UH started to make a run, The Pride would respond with a crowd-silencing bucket. The Coogs cut the lead to one point on a tip-in late in the first half but immediately after, J’Wan Roberts was hit with a technical after taunting a Hofstra player. That killed the momentum and The Pride led by six at the break.

“I connect the slow start to a brand-new team against a good team,” Sampson said.

Hofstra’s lead never dipped below five points in the second half until Marcus Sasser hit a jumper to cut it to 66-62 with 3 minutes left. Zach Cooks, a Hofstra grad transfer from NJIT, buried a three-pointer with 2:25 left to push the lead back to five, 69-64. Cooks had a spectacular night, finishing with 26 points and four rebounds. UH fans might not see a better performance by an opposing player at home this season.

“I was worried about this game because how good their guards were. Number 3, did you guys think he was good,” Kelvin asked reporters. “Well, you are going to think he’s good after I say this: He has scored 1700 points in his career at NJIT before he transferred to Hofstra. He’s already scored 1700 points.”

But that Cooks’ three-pointer was the last score for Hofstra in regulation. The Cougars kept clawing and finally tied it as the pent-up crowd exploded. The arena was probably 60% full and was subdued most of the night as UH struggled to get in a rhythm. But once fans were given a reason to cheer, Fertitta became a clear homecourt advantage.

In overtime, Sasser nailed a three-pointer to lead it off and The Pride answered with a bucket in the paint. UH then had a three-shot possession, ending with a huge three from Shead, the biggest shot in his young career. Roberts made a shot in the paint a minute later and the Coogs went on to the win.

“Hofstra is an NCAA Tournament team. They are a team that’s a 12, 13, 14 seed. That’s how good they are,” Sampson explained. “Guys that don’t live in my world have no idea how tough they were going to be. We did.”

Sasser finished with 25 points and Taze Moore had 12 on 4/4 shooting from beyond the arc. Kyler Edwards had a double-double, 10 points and 11 boards. J’Wan Roberts played his best game as a Cougar, finishing 4/4 from the floor and with a game- and career-high 15 rebounds.

“The toughest guy on the court tonight without a doubt was J’Wan Roberts. He’s why we won,” Sampson said matter of factly. “The other reason we won is because of Marcus’s heart.”

Click a photo for a high resolution version. and you can scroll through each of them in the lightbox. All images © Mario Puente 2021.

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