Four road games. Four games tied in the final minute (61 seconds at BYU). Four learning opportunities for the Houston Cougars.
Four chances to prove they belong.
They let the first two chances slip away. At Iowa State, Kelvin Sampson was despondent. After TCU, disappointed. And then winning returned: at BYU, there was a sense of jubilation, and after two halves and an overtime at Texas, Sampson looked like a guy that somehow survived a 15-round brawl.
the daily #179 | 1/30/2024 | Archives
It was a game of moods at the Moody Center. Houston rushed. Then, they slowed it to a halt. Houston looked energized. Then, they looked dead. Houston was given a standing eight count. Then, they grabbed another second chance.
Houston looked lost. Then they came alive.
In a back-and-forth game that saw 11 lead changes and eight ties, the Cougars found a way. Kelvin Sampson credited offensive rebounds (15-8 Houston edge) for the win and perhaps inferred second-chance points (19-8), too. But his Cougars, dismissed as another G5 fraud after back-to-back road losses in the Big 12, have won five games in 13 days to silence the doubters, snuff out the haters, and prove that winning ugly is, in fact, beautiful.
A stone-cold craving to compete is what this program is built on. When a reporter tries to frame a question in terms of moral victory, Sampson invariably replies, “But they still keep score, right?” If they keep track, he needs to win. He’s ingrained that mentality into his co-anchors, Jamal Shead and J’Wan Roberts; it is now their oxygen.
In the second half, Shead looked like he’d spent his last bit of energy. He missed a three, and Texas grabbed the rebound and swished a three on the fast break. Houston had gone down six, 54-48, and the chance had probably slipped away. Kelvin Sampson brought his hands together over his slumped head to signal timeout.
By then, Shead had played over 93 minutes of game time in the last seven days and had been on the court for all but three of the 32 minutes played on this night. He was dragging.
Out of the timeout, J’Wan Roberts drew a foul, and Emanuel Sharp missed wide on a three-pointer. But L.J. Cryer snared the rebound and whipped it to Shead. Swish. A defensive stop, and Sharp leads the fast break. Shead trails, and Sharp finds him. Swish. Shead was caught on camera nodding at the Texas bench. There’s that competitor.
After Sharp rebounds a miss, the Coogs go down, and with the play clock winding down, Roberts throws a cross-court pass to Sharp. Swish.
Three possessions. 118 seconds. Swish. Swish. Swish. Nine-zero run. Sharp, fighting his way out of a shooting slump, pulled down two rebounds, had an assist, and buried the three to put Houston up by three. He grinned his mischievous smile, knowing he affected all three buckets that brought his Cougars back.
That (almost) two minutes did not win the game, but it might have been the best offensive sequence of the season. Jamal Shead is in the biggest font possible on the marquee, but Sharp’s maturity was proved in realtime.
In overtime, Sharp hit four free throws to win the game. Sharp has been living the message Kelvin has been feeding him: when the shot’s not going in, affect the game in other ways. He did it with eight boards, two assists, and those four crucial free throws in overtime. But he also saw the threes go down: he was 3/6 in the game and finished with 13 points.
These Cougars have grown up in just a few weeks. After the Kansas State game, Kelvin said this team is not a finished product. After Texas, he said they weren’t perfect. But when he needed it most, they competed as hard as ever.
They keep score in Austin, too.