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Dec 5, 2023 2:15 am

No. 3 Houston puts unbeaten mark on line vs. rival Rice

No. 3 Houston will look to continue its torrid start to the season and remain undefeated when it hosts Rice on Wednesday in the battle between city rivals.

The Cougars (8-0) head home after a gritty 66-60 win at Xavier on Friday in a Big East-Big 12 Battle contest. Houston prevailed thanks to LJ Cryer’s game-high 23 points. Jamal Shead added 13 points, Emanuel Sharp had 10 and J’Wan Roberts pulled down 12 rebounds in the Cougars’ first true road game of the season.

“Tough environment,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson after the win. “I don’t think we played very good. The best thing about it was that we found a way to win.”

The game was a slog, with 50 fouls whistled as the teams combined to attempt 55 free throws. Houston made just three field goals over the final 16 minutes of the victory.

The score was tied at 49 after Houston endured an eight-plus-minute stretch without a field goal. Cryer canned a jumper to put the Cougars back up 51-49, and after three free throws by Xavier, Sharp answered with a pair from the charity stripe with 6:34 to play to put Houston back in the lead for good.

With under two minutes to go, Cryer and Shead hit short jumpers to extend what was a three-point lead to seven, effectively sealing the win.

For the first time this season, Houston was outrebounded, 42-39. However, the Cougars won the battle on the glass in the second half, 22-17, when they pulled down eight offensive rebounds.

“We had a lot of good looks in those droughts,” Sampson said. “I don’t worry about droughts. I worry about shot selection, and we were getting good shots. The rebounding in the second half mattered.”

The Owls (3-5) head across town after a come-from-behind, 65-56 win over Houston Christian on Saturday. Rice’s Travis Evee scored a game-high 18 points while Mekhi Mason added 17 points, Keanu Dawes had 14 and Max Fiedler racked up 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Rice has won two consecutive games after losing five in a row.

Defense was the difference on Saturday as Rice held the Huskies to 35.3 percent shooting from the field and 17.6 percent (3 of 17) from beyond the arc. The Owls trailed by 13 points with nine minutes to play in the first half before Evee recorded 10 points in a 19-6 run that tied the game just before halftime.

“I’m happy to get the win,” Rice coach Scott Pera said. “A good word to use for this game is sloppy. Offensively, we just couldn’t get any rhythm going.

“But, the good news is, we would not have won that game in the past. We won with our defense. When you do that, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win. So I’m really proud of that. That’s back-to-back pretty good defensive performances by us.”

In their prior game, the Owls beat UT Martin 98-78 on Nov. 30.

Houston has won the past seven meetings with the Owls, most recently a 79-46 shellacking in November 2021 on the Cougars’ home floor.

–Field Level Media

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