Mandatory Credit: Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht/AP/Shutterstock (13793627c) Memphis Kendric Davis (3) and Houston Jamal Shead (1) go for a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Memphis, Tenn Houston Basketball, Memphis, United States – 05 Mar 2023
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball, it turned out the most exciting game of the regular season was saved for the finale.
The 18,437 people that packed into the FedEx Forum on Sunday morning were left stunned by the early afternoon when it was Houston that walked away with the 67-65 win over Memphis behind a buzzer-beating jumper from junior point guard Jamal Shead.
Just seconds before, Memphis fifth-year guard Kendric Davis had sent the arena into a frenzy on a game-tying layup. Shead then took the ball in his hands with roughly eight seconds remaining in the game. He had one goal in mind — to push the pace. He knew head coach Kelvin Sampson was not going to call a timeout.
“The difference [in not calling timeout] was we had them in retreat,” Sampson told reporters after the game. “When you get them back on their heels, you can get a good shot and that is what we did.”
As the seconds winded down on the game clock, Shead had an internal countdown going in his own head. He scanned the court for fellow guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark to see if they were open for a shot. They were not.
He then saw junior forward J’Wan Roberts coming up to set him a screen. Shead took it and was ready to go to his left until he saw Memphis big man DeAndre Williams waiting for him.
Instead of potentially getting trapped, Shead went to his right. He looked for freshman forward Jarace Walker to see if he was open, but time was running out. Shead raised up for a jumper and let the ball go off his fingertips. As the ball traveled through the air, the final buzzer sounded.
The orange ball went through the rim and past the white net. Shead’s basket made Houston’s players erupt with excitement and joy. UH walked off the court with a little extra satisfaction knowing it had just silenced a hostile Memphis crowd and team.
“We put the ball in Jamal’s hands ’cause Jamal is a downhill guy,” Sampson said. “Credit to him for recognizing the time. He knew exactly how much time it was.”
For Shead, Sunday’s brilliant execution in the clutch goes back to November 2021. During the Maui Invitational, Houston played Wisconsin. In the closing seconds of the game, Shead lost track of the time and allowed the time to expire without Houston ever attempting a potential tying or go-ahead shot. It became a lesson that has become engrained into his mind ever since.
Shead’s growth from that moment also embodies what Sampson’s program is all about.
“He’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to fail,” Sampson said. “Failure is part of success. There are so many people that don’t try or won’t put themselves out there because they don’t want to fail. We talk about that so much in our program — the importance of failure early.
“That’s why I tell you guys I don’t care if we lose a game in November or December. That is how you grow. That is how you win.”
Shead’s shot was a remarkable end to a historic regular season for Houston.
“It was amazing really,” Sasser said. “They had a great crowd. It [was] kind of like a March Madness game, like a tournament game. The atmosphere that is how it’s going to be like every game in the tournament.”
With the win, Houston picked up its fourth Quad One victory of the season. With both Alabama and Kansas losing over the weekend, the Cougars’ chances at getting the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament became greater. However, it still could be an uphill battle to at least overcome the Crimson Tide, who owns the head-to-head advantage.
For Sampson, though, Houston’s ability to go on the road and hold Memphis to just 35.8% shooting from the field was the more impressive feat.
While Houston is known for its suffocating man-to-man defense, Sampson opted to switch to a 3-2 zone down the stretch against Memphis. A big reason for the change was because of UH’s inability to keep Davis off the free-throw line, he added. Davis ended the game 11-of-12 from the charity stripe.
Having only played zone sparingly throughout the season, the Cougars’ success with that type of defense, which held Memphis scoreless for over five minutes of game action in the second half during a key 10-0 run, was a testament to the team’s culture, toughness and how competitive the players are.
“Our kids know how to win,” Sampson said. “I have said that multiple, multiple times. To be 29-2 and 17-1 and win in every gym in the league, just proud of our program.”