National Basketball Association
Southern Methodist 76, Houston 66
When: 6:00 PM ET, Saturday, February 18, 2017
Where: Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston, Texas
# Andrew Walton, # Lee Cassell, # John Hampton
Houston came in hot, but No. 19 SMU avoided getting burned in a 76-66 road win over the Cougars in Houston to hang on to first place in the American Athletic Conference.
SMU (24-4, 14-1 AAC) relied on the strength of forward Semi Ojeleye, who scored 22, and forward Ben Moore, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds, to hold off Houston (18-8, 9-5), which had won five games in a row.
Ojeleye and Moore helped to turn a game that was tied 51-51 with five minutes left into an eight-point SMU advantage. Moore hit a long jumper to put SMU up by five with 3:40 to play, then Ojeleye converted a three-point play for a 61-53 lead with 3:04 left.
"You talk about hearts of lions, I mean, this team are a bunch of lions," SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. "They just refuse to lose, no matter what the situation. No matter what the score. No matter how poorly things are going."
SMU did a lot of damage from the free-throw line, making 22 of 28 foul shots, while Houston was just 5 of 11 from the line.
“Their free throws bailed them out of a lot of possessions,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “They kept being out on the free-throw line. They had a lot of possessions where I felt we guarded them really good, and the next thing you know they get two points from the free-throw line.”
Houston guard Rob Gray, the leading scorer in the AAC with a 20.5 average, led the Cougars with 23 points despite playing just 28 minutes because of foul trouble.
After missing a large portion of the first half with two fouls, Gray picked up his fourth with 12:40 left in the second half while Houston was clinging to a 38-35 lead.
Gray went to the bench and did not return until 7:12 remained. SMU took advantage and built a 47-41 lead in Gray's absence.
“Obviously (Gray) was cooking,” Sampson said. “He was getting in the lane and getting whatever he wanted. Next thing you know he’s sitting beside me.”
SMU had its own foul trouble, with point guard Shake Milton sitting after getting tagged for his fourth foul with 15:29 to play.
Guard Damyean Dotson added 19 points for Houston while SMU guard Sterling Brown finished with 16 points despite missing 10 of his first 11 shots.
"They were so sharp on the offensive end," Jankovich said of Houston. "I could see that they had really, really done a great job of dissecting our film from last time and taking advantage of some things."
SMU has won 10 in a row, and 20 of its last 21, to maintain a half-game lead over second-place Cincinnati.
Houston, a team looking to play its way into NCAA Tournament consideration, started hot and shot 60 percent in the first 10 minutes to take a 22-9 lead. And that was with Gray missing a seven-minute portion because of foul trouble.
SMU started 1 of 7 from the field but heated up during a 15-2 run to pull into a tie, 26-26, with a minute left in the first half. Houston recovered briefly to stake a 30-26 lead at halftime.
SMU was playing its third game in six days, a stretch that started with a win over nationally-ranked Cincinnati followed by a 15-point comeback against Tulane. Tired legs may have been a reason the Mustangs were just 4 of 14 from 3-point range.
"I love the fact that we out-rebounded them (40-33) on their floor, that makes me very happy," Jankovich said. "I love the fact we only turned the ball over seven times in a hostile environment. We just didn't shoot the ball well from 3, and if you can win when you do that, that's the best kind of win because you're going to win a lot of games when you shoot well."
NOTES: Houston was SMU's second opponent in a row that had a week's rest. Wednesday, SMU fell behind by 15 at halftime against Tulane, which also had a week off, before coming back to win, 80-75... Saturday's game was one of the last three at Houston's Hofheinz Pavilion. The onetime home of Phi Slama Jama will undergo a $60 million renovation and reopen for the 2018-19 season as the Fertitta Center... SMU won the previous meeting against Houston in Dallas 85-64 on Jan. 21.
Top Game Performances
Semi Ojeleye 22
Rob Gray Jr. 23
Ben Moore 3
Galen Robinson Jr. 7
Ben Moore 13
Rob Gray Jr. 6
Sterling Brown 7
||Free Throws Made
Galen Robinson Jr. 3
Jarrey Foster 2
Galen Robinson Jr. 1
Sterling Brown 1
Danrad Knowles 1
Team Stats Summary