No. 1 Houston Cougars unable to hang on against No. 8 Alabama, fall 71-65

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13660490c) Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) is defended by Alabama guard Nimari Burnett (25) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Alabama Basketball, Houston, United States – 10 Dec 2022

No. 1 Houston Cougars unable to hang on against No. 8 Alabama, fall 71-65

In what was the most highly-anticipated game in the history of the Fertitta Center, the No. 1 Houston Cougars and No. 8 Alabama did not disappoint as the two teams battled for 40 minutes inside the jam-packed arena.

It was the Cougars (9-1) that fell to the better team on Saturday afternoon, dropping their first game of the season to the Crimson Tide, 71-65.

Despite Houston building a 15-point cushion in the second half, Alabama (8-1) rallied and stunned the Cougars. In the slugfest of the game, the two teams took turns getting big stops, making huge shots, and securing game-changing plays.

An offensive rebound by forward Reggie Chaney, a 3-pointer by Alabama guard Mark Sears, a drive and a free throw by Houston guard Marcus Sasser, and an offensive rebound and put-back score by Alabama center Charles Bediako were some of the final plays that captivated the fans in attendance.

Chaney’s missed free throws late, combined with missed field goals down the stretch by guard Jamal Shead and Ramon Walker, sealed the Cougars’ loss to the Crimson Tide.

Fans were in their seats long before tipoff, and the students got to their section and were rowdy. Some waited hours before they were even let into the arena. There were various tailgates around the Fertitta Center as game time approached. Once it arrived, it was a constant onslaught of screams, cheers, jeers, and everything in between.

The beginning of the game was a defensive battle between the two powerhouses. Houston struggled shooting from the field, but the Crimson Tide did not fare any better. With Alabama having a rebounding edge on the Cougars early, Houston made up for it by forcing Alabama to commit turnovers.

As the game went on, Houston closed the rebounding gap between the two teams, but UH’s defensive intensity never wavered, which is what ultimately allowed the Cougars to build the lead against the Crimson Tide.

Throughout the entire game, Houston had a flurry of highlight plays, including a monster block by Houston forward Jarace Walker on Alabama freshman forward Brandon Miller, who entered the game as the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer.

With 8:07 remaining in the first half, Miller got past Houston guard Tramon Mark but ran right into Walker, who swatted his shot into the stands, and he let out a scream in excitement.

The highlight of the game came on a fast-break dunk by Houston Cougars junior guard Jamal Shead, who was running full steam and soared through the air for the emphatic poster.

Houston trailed for much of the first half. It did not get its first lead until the 7:14 mark in the first half on a hook shot in the post from forward J’Wan Roberts.

Alabama and Houston went back and forth the rest of the period; however, it was the Cougars that closed out the half strong with baskets from Shead and a 3-pointer from Mark to give UH a 31-27 edge at the break.

Once the second half got rolling, senior guard Marcus Sasser began to heat up. He opened the second half with two baskets sandwiched between 3-pointers from Mark and Shead. Soon Houston had built a double-digit lead against Alabama.

Alabama slowly clawed its way back into the game, cutting UH’s lead down to five in the second half, then to one, and eventually took back the lead. The Crimson Tide were able to clean up the turnover issues that plagued them throughout much of the game, which was a big key in their rally.

Shead finished the game with 19 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Mark had 10 points. Sasser had nine points. Alabama was led by Noah Clowney, who had 16 points. Lead freshman Miller had eight points on 0-of-8 shooting for the Crimson Tide.

Houston broke the attendance record at Fertitta Center on Saturday afternoon as 7,718 people crammed into the arena to watch the Cougars defeat the Crimson Tide.

The Cougars return to action inside the Fertitta Center on Dec. 13 against North Carolina A&T.

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