Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13639034m) Kent State guard Giovanni Santiago (11) is called for a foul on Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Kent State Basketball, Houston, United States – 26 Nov 2022
The No. 2 Houston Cougars men’s basketball team faced its toughest challenge of the season in their 49-44 victory over Kent State.
Houston (6-0) had to claw its way out of an early hole and outlasted the Golden Flashes to remain undefeated in the young season. In what was a game of runs, it was the Cougars that got the final push across the finish line in Saturday’s slugfest.
“That’s the first time all year somebody’s punched us in the mouth,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We are used to punching other people in the mouth around here.”
Kent State gave Houston 40 minutes of nonstop action. The Golden Flashes not only became the first team to hold a double-digit lead against the Cougars, but they were also the first team to force Houston into a late-game, crunchtime situation.
The Golden Flashes led 13-3 early. They then started the second half on an 8-0 run to jump out to a 30-24 lead, and then went on a 14-4 run to take a one-point lead with just 1:05 left in the game.
Kent State forced Houston to commit 23 turnovers and shoot only 16-of-50 from the field, or 32%, which also included a 2-of-17 night from behind the 3-point line.
After the game, Sampson gazed over the stats sheet as he spoke with reporters. When he looked at the numbers, he let out an “ooh,” he let out an “ouch,” and he let out an “oof.” However, the head coach also put the game into perspective.
“But you know what, there’s not a lot of teams that can shoot 32% and win,” Sampson said.
A big reason for Houston’s win was its victory in the rebounding category. The Cougars beat the Golden Flashes 56-33 on the boards. UH forward J’Wan Roberts had an 11-point, 14-rebound double-double.
Houston also played strong defense against Kent State. Despite UH’s own offensive woes, Kent State did worse, shooting only 15-of-63 from the field, or 23.8%.
At one point, the Cougars held the Golden Flashes scoreless for over seven minutes. In the first half, they held Kent State without a field goal for the final 8:30 of the period.
The Cougars’ win on Saturday showed a blue-collar mentality Sampson’s previous teams have been known for.
Houston will never not be a toughness program, Sampson stated. He was proud of the win and how his team kept fighting against Kent State. On a night the Cougars could not make shots, they still figured out a way to win, he added.
“We needed this for our growth,” Sampson said. “We have a good team, but if we are going to get better, it’s important for our guys to know that they can play well, find a way to win when things didn’t go your way. A lot of teams out there can’t win on nights the ball don’t go in.”
“It wasn’t a wasted day,” the head coach stated. “This was a growing day. This was a day of growth.”