Looking over the scoresheet, Kelvin Sampson knew that this was not one of his team’s prettier victories. Yet, he also knew that Houston basketball games are anything but a beauty contest.
The Cougars’ veteran coach hopes to lead his hard-nosed team to the Charleston Classic title on Sunday when No. 6 Houston faces Dayton in Charleston, S.C.
As Sampson reflected on Friday’s 10-point win over Utah, he noticed that the Cougars missed two-thirds of their 3-pointers and half of their foul shots. They squandered a 14-point second-half lead before rallying to pull out the victory — their fifth in as many games this season.
“My kids found a way to win. We didn’t shoot the ball well (Friday). We didn’t make free throws,” Sampson said. “Sometimes the culture of your program, your DNA, knows how to win games like this.”
Houston leaned on L.J. Cryer late, as the senior guard drained two 3-pointers down the stretch after Terrance Arceneaux broke a 56-56 tie. Cryer and Jamal Shead scored 14 points apiece, although they combined to shoot 11 of 31 from the field.
Emanuel Sharp led the Cougars with 15 points and had three of the team’s 10 steals.
“We’re still finding our way,” Sampson said. “But a game like (Friday) is what tournament play is about. You’ve got to get outside the box.”
J’Wan Roberts had 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) and 12 rebounds against Utah, and he could pose a problem for Dayton in Sunday’s tournament finale. The Flyers had issues with St. John’s big man Joel Soriano (21 points, nine rebounds) in Friday’s semifinals, although they still were able to emerge 88-81.
“I really like where we’re headed as a team,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “I really like the group. I think they’re complementing each other really well and figuring it out. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
The Flyers (3-1) will continue to feed DaRon Holmes II and Nate Santos. Holmes scored 21 points against St. John’s after being limited to eight as Dayton snuck by LSU 70-67 in the tourney opener. Santos scored 18 vs. St. John’s and has scored a combined 37 points in the first two rounds of this event.
“(Our strong finish against St. John’s) goes back to the things we do in practice,” Holmes said. “Our coaches do a really good job of pushing us and making sure it’s not easy in practice. Our habits in practice lead us to these moments.”
In Friday’s contest, Grant was particularly happy with the play of Koby Brea, who had rods inserted into each of his legs back in April to address multiple stress fractures. The junior guard has returned in a major way this fall, posting three consecutive double-digit scoring efforts, including a crisp performance (10 points, six rebounds) against the Red Storm.
“When you reflect on everything that he’s been through in the last year, he’s playing with great confidence,” Grant said. “He just has a great feel about him. He understands who he is as a player. He’s really talented. It was great to see that putback dunk (against St. John’s), but his poise out there — it’s really impressive to see.”
–Field Level Media
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