For Houston Cougars basketball, SMU’s late run a sign UH still needs to mature ahead of March run

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13771093m) Houston guard Marcus Sasser, right, loses control of the ball as SMU’s Zhuric Phelps defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Dallas Houston SMU Basketball, Dallas, United States – 16 Feb 2023

For Houston Cougars basketball, SMU’s late run a sign UH still needs to mature ahead of March run

The Houston Cougars basketball team defeated the SMU Mustangs in Dallas on Thursday evening, 80-65. However, despite the double-digit margin of victory, the team’s two leaders said the late-game struggles showed the need to mature ahead of the final stretch of the season.

No. 2 Houston (24-2, 12-1 American Athletic) built as much as a 23-point lead in Thursday’s contest, but for a period of roughly four minutes toward the end of the second half, SMU went on a 15-3 run that cut the Cougars’ lead to 11 points.

For senior guard Marcus Sasser and junior guard Jamal Shead, the lapse in intensity by the Cougars was a sign of immaturity it needs to address if they plan on making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“Once you get that lead, you got to know how to maintain it because you know March, March is right around the corner,” Shead told reporters at the Moody Coliseum after the game. “If you don’t know how to maintain the lead, then you’re not going to go very far in it. We got to mature a little bit more and just be able to maintain a certain lead like we had tonight.”

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said once the team got up 66-43 in the second half, it began to play a little bit more selfishly, particularly when it came to shot selection.

The Cougars built their huge lead through their ball movement, Sampson said. Houston hit 27 shots against SMU, with 17 of those coming on assists. UH was at its best when it was attacking SMU with middle-ball screens.

The Mustangs were helping off the corners to try and stop Houston’s roller off the screens, and the Cougars kept taking advantage of the open man in the corners for 3-pointers, Sampson said.

When SMU took the corner shots away, Houston moved the ball right out to the slot, and sometimes it moved the ball around to the other corner, which is why the ball movement was key in building the lead, Sampson added. Even when the Mustangs tried to change things up by going to a 2-3 zone, UH’s patience and ball movement carved them up.

During SMU’s run, however, the ball began to stick more. The Cougars started getting stagnant on offense, stopped moving the ball, and stopped scoring, Shead said. Additionally, their defense began to let up too, which allowed SMU to get out in transition during its late-game rally.

“That’s just where maturity comes in,” Sasser said. “When you get a big lead, you gotta try to just stay mature and play with that same intensity that really got you that lead. Sometimes, you know, it can be hard, but I think that is something that we got to work on.”

Despite the Mustangs’ run, they never got Houston’s lead under 11 points. In the final three minutes of the matchup, Houston went 7-of-8 on free throws to help ice the game. Five of the free throws came from Sasser. The other two makes came from redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark.

Houston had stellar performances from multiple players throughout the night, including Sasser, who had 20 points in his homecoming, and Shead, who had 13 points and eight assists.

Mark had 11 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward J’Wan Roberts had eight points and 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Jarace Walker shined throughout the game against SMU as well. He finished with 14 points, hit a couple of 3-pointers and had a monster alley-oop slam.

With the victory, the Cougars improved to 9-0 on the road this season. For Sampson, that is the most important thing that came out of Thursday night.

“When you get to almost the month of March, the last thing I am going to do is start slicing and dicing road wins,” Sampson said.

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1 Comment

  • Somebody needs to give Calvin Murphy a call and get him to pay a visit to the cougars ASAP. The free throw shooting needs some serious improvement before the tournament, missing ten free throws in a game will cost you a game, well another game.

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