With a buzz in the air following the Houston football team’s celebration in front of TDECU Stadium, enthusiastic fans took to Hofheinz Pavillion for the men’s basketball team’s matchup against 12th ranked SMU. The basketball team wouldn’t let them down, beating the Mustangs 71-68 in front of a raucous crowd of 6,195 fans.

In what proved to be the biggest win for the storied Houston men’s basketball team in years, Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson was pleased with with the fight his team showed.  “There were a lot of turning points in the game.”  “When we got down 11, it was our fight. That is a part of our identity. Our kids stay together. They don’t back down.”

The Cougars were down 11 points in the second half, only to storm back and go on a 21-4 run midway through the second half, keyed by 16 points between Devonta Pollard and Damyean Dotson.  Houston (16-6, 6-4) took control when SMU (19-2, 8-2) didn’t score during a 6:07 stretch, and the Cougars took a 59-53 lead.  Led by Pollards’s 23 and Dotson’s 13 points, the Cougars pulled within 2 games of SMU for the top spot in the American Athletic Conference standings.

Houston out-rebounded SMU 41-27, in what both coaches said was a major key to the Cougars’ victory.

SMU led by 5 at halftime, and opened the second half on a 8-2 run.  Thats’s when the Cougars would take control.

After Houston took a 66-58 lead with 3:40 to go in the game, Nic Moore scored five straight points followed by two free throws by Ben Moore, to cut the lead to 66-65 with 2:02 left.  Galen Robinson, Jr. hit 1 of 2 free throws, before Pollard would hit a couple to push the lead to 69-65 with 46 seconds remaining.  Houston would miss 5-6 free throws at one point, to give the Mustangs a chance to tie with 14 seconds left.  Jordan Tolbert would miss a decent look at a game-tying three pointer, and Shake Milton couldn’t secure the offensive rebound in time to get another shot off, propelling the Cougars to victory.

Houston shot 55 percent in the second half and 46 percent for the game.  SMU shot 52 percent in the first half, but only managed 29 percent in the second, finishing at 40 percent for the game.  The story of the first half was Houston’s foul situation.  The Cougars were called for 11 first half fouls, giving SMU 15 free throws, to the Cougars 3.  Houston had an 18-8 advantage from the line in the second half.  The Cougars only managed 57 percent from the line (12-21), in what has become a real problem area for Sampson’s team.

Houston’s top scorer, Rob Gray, Jr., missed the game with an ankle injury.

This is Houston’s first win over a ranked opponent, since beating No. 25 SMU in March 2014.  The win was the first over a team ranked this high or higher since beating No. 3 Memphis in January 1996.

My takeaway:  This Cougar team plays at an elevated level when there are fans in the seats.  In all the games I have been to over the years, this was an incredible atmosphere for both teams.  SMU fans stood and chanted throughout, as the Cougar student section would begin to drown them out with chants of their own.  The win against SMU, and earlier against LSU, were good crowds, and the level of play by the Houston players was raised again with a noisy Hofheinz Pavillion.

The Peach Bowl champion Houston Football team was recognized on the court at halftime, in which Coach Tom Herman again thanked the students for their amazing support throughout the year.  UH alumni and new Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined UH President Renu Khator and a big crowd of fans, as they celebrated the football team one last time in front of TDECU Stadium, until next season.

The #HTOWNTAKEOVER has begun its transition to the men’s basketball program, and they can only hope they have the same success.