No. 25 Houston looks to move past the bite and the swoon that happened last time out in a loss to Cincinnati and focus on the second half of the American Athletic Conference schedule, beginning with Thursday’s home date with reeling Tulane.
The Cougars dropped a 66-64 decision Saturday in which the Bearcats stormed back from a 15-point deficit. That snapped Houston’s five-game winning streak and left the Cougars (17-5, 7-2 AAC) in second place behind Tulsa in the league standings midway through the conference campaign.
Marcus Sasser led Houston in the loss with 17 points with four 3-pointers in 20 minutes while Nate Hinton totaled 16 points with eight rebounds.
Cincinnati capitalized on Houston missing 14 of its last 15 shots from the field and going 11 minutes without a basket.
“First of all, you don’t ever make excuses,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We were in control of the game up until the nine-minute mark. We had some unforced errors. It’s difficult to win in any atmosphere. It’s hard to win on the road, period.”
Houston has won 15 of its past 18 games. Five of the Cougars’ remaining conference games will be at home, where they have won five straight.
“You’re gonna stay in the conference race as long as you win your home games,” Sampson said. “(The American teams) are going to continue to cannibalize each other … the good thing is that both Tulsa and Cincinnati have to come to Houston to play.”
Houston will be without guard DeJon Jarreau, who was suspended by Sampson for the Tulane game after video review showed he bit Cincinnati’s Mamoudou Diarra on the leg during a fight for a loose ball. Jarreau was ejected from the game after drawing a flagrant 2 foul and the Cougars never recovered.
The Green Wave (10-11, 2-7) are coming off an 82-67 loss at SMU on Saturday. It was the fifth straight setback for Tulane, with all five losses coming by at least 13 points.
Nic Thomas led four Tulane scorers in double figures in the loss with a season-high 20 points and made six 3-pointers while K.J. Lawson added 15 points and seven rebounds, Teshaun Hightower hit for 12 points and Christion Thompson chipped in 11.
Tulane coach Ron Hunter, who is in his first season at the helm in New Orleans, said that brighter days are ahead for his team, which is currently mired in last place in the AAC standings.
“It’s hard, but be patient, Tulane,” Hunter said. “Things are going to go well. This is part of it. I guarantee things are going to get better. I just told the young guys that they are going to look back on this in a couple of years when we’ve got this thing going (and see) all of this is part of the process of getting better.”
Prior to Thursday’s game, Houston will observe a moment of silence in memory of John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa.
The Altobellis were in the helicopter accident on Jan. 26 that also claimed the lives of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. John Altobelli was a two-year letterman for Houston baseball from 1984-85 and served as an assistant coach in 1987.
–Field Level Media