No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball uses a strong second-half start to cruise past Cincinnati, 72-59

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Terrance Williams/AP/Shutterstock (13620239y) Houston forward Jarace Walker (25) handles the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Saint Joseph’s at the Veterans Classic, in Annapolis, Md Houston Saint Josephs Basketball, Annapolis, United States – 11 Nov 2022

No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball uses a strong second-half start to cruise past Cincinnati, 72-59

CINCINNATI — The Houston Cougars basketball team stayed undefeated in conference play on Sunday afternoon as it was able to weather a hot crowd and slow start to leave Fifth Third Arena with a 72-59 win over Cincinnati.

It was once again a strong performance for Houston (16-1, 4-0 American Athletic) freshman forward Jarace Walker, who followed up his stellar play against Southern Methodist University on Thursday with a 21-point performance against Cincinnati.

The game actually began with a strong flurry from the Bearcats (11-6, 2-2 AAC), who scored the first five points of the matchup, from there, it was the Cougars that were able to impose their will and have a leg up on their opponent the rest of the way.

No. 2 Houston’s first points of the game came on a signature offensive rebound from guard Tramon Mark, who then kicked it out to Walker for a 3-pointer. Walker’s long-distance shot sparked a 10-0 answer to the Bearcats’ initial start and put UH in the driver’s seat.

Houston managed to build a six-point lead before back-to-back 3-pointers from Landers Nolley II, who had the hot hand early against the Cougars on Sunday afternoon, tied the game at 18. Nolley II ended the game with 12 points for Cincinnati. Guard Mika Adams-Woods led Cincinnati with 19 points.

From that point on, however, it was Walker that was the main force behind UH’s offense. He scored eight of the team’s next 12 points that helped the Cougars build up a 30-21 lead.

Walker was active in the passing lanes against the Bearcats. He finished with three steals. The Pennsylvania native was able to convert those steals into fast-break scores a few times throughout the matchup.

The Cougars held a 35-28 lead at halftime, and then they blitzed the Bearcats to start the second half with a 15-2 run that gave Houston a 50-30 lead and put the game out of reach.

As was the case in the first half, Walker was a driving force behind the run. He scored six of the 15 points, including converting a steal into a strong dunk for the Cougars.

Cougars guard Jamal Shead added in five points and an assist while both junior J’Wan Roberts and sophomore Ja’Vier Francis had a basket during Houston’s run 15-2 half-opening run.

The Bearcats were able to cut Houston’s lead, which had ballooned up to as many as 20 points, down to just 10 with 5:41 left in the second half. The run caused Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson to call a timeout and put his starting lineup back in.

Houston answered Cincinnati’s run with a corner 3-pointer from redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark. After a score and stop from the Bearcats as an answer, UH was once again able to take momentum with a steal from senior guard Marcus Sasser, who took the ball for a fast-break slam that extended the Cougars’ lead to 63-50.

A Sasser 3-pointer a few possessions later gave Houston a 14-point lead. Cincinnati was never able to cut the deficit to under 10 points.

Sasser had 16 points, six rebounds, and five steals for Houston. Mark had 10 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Roberts ended the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

With the win, the Houston Cougars basketball team puts itself in a position to reclaim the No. 1 spot in both national polls. While it is nothing but a badge of honor at this point in the season, it is something fans will rejoice at if the team is indeed back at the top.

Houston will take the court again on Wednesday night inside Fertitta Center against South Florida.

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