You could feel it as the crowd started to fill in. The energy on Tuesday night was different than the nervousness that pervaded Fertitta Center Saturday. Instead, Tuesday was celebratory, a rare moment when the players on the court and the fans in the stands get to party together.
Monday had felt surreal for Cougar fans, finally reaching the mountaintop and unsure how to react. But on Tuesday evening, they filed into Fertitta Center and made it roar. None of these players were alive the last time Houston was #1; neither were any members of UH’s previous 20 freshmen classes. Forty Novembers have passed since the last time a UH fan could hold a #1 foam finger and mean it.
The Cougar players were determined that nothing would spoil their special night. With crisp ball movement, hot shooting, and pick-your-pocket defense, #1 Houston thumped the overmatched Norfolk State Spartans, 100-52. Few fans left despite the blowout, wanting to savor the moment for as long as possible. Some milled around on the floor for 30 minutes after the final buzzer, snapping pictures at midcourt and taking it all in.
But none of that happens without the players atoning for Saturday afternoon. For three days since Kent State, Kelvin Sampson hammered them on ball movement, body movement, and execution. The harrowing echoes across Fertitta Center in practice sessions were enough to know that he did not want a repeat performance. Wisely, his players heeded his words, whipping it around the perimeter and making shot after shot over the Spartan zone.
“Soon as they popped in that zone, we were crisp,” Sampson said after the game. “We knew exactly where the ball was going. The ball moved, we got inside-out, the ball got reversed, we made extra passes.
“Saturday, we were basically an ISO team. And we’re no good being an ISO team.”
The defensive tenacity did not suffer, as the Coogs held Norfolk State to 1/18 from three, the worst three-point shooting night in Fertitta history. Two other teams made one three (Lamar shot 1/13 and Boise shot 1/16), both in 2020, but no one can match the 5.6% shooting of Norfolk State.
It was Norfolk State’s second-worst loss as a D1 program (since 1997) and third-worst in 70 years as a program.
Tuesday was Houston’s first home game as the #1 team in the AP Poll since March 2, 1968 (19,996 days). It was also UH’s eighth-straight game scoring 100 points at home when ranked #1.