Sixth-ranked Houston takes its unbeaten record into opposing territory for the first time this season when it visits Xavier on Friday night in Cincinnati.
The Cougars (7-0) have played five games on campus while also winning both contests on a neutral court, capturing the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C.
Houston is coming off a 79-44 blowout win over Montana last Friday, as L.J. Cryer had 24 points and Jamal Shead added 13 points and seven assists. Shead became the seventh Houston player to reach the 500-assist milestone.
“It’s a testament to how much me and my teammates work,” Shead said. “I can’t get 500 assists without guys making shots.”
With Shead and Cryer leading the way, Houston led 41-14 at the half and committed just four turnovers for the entire game.
“Our team traditionally does not turn it over,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We have one of the best backcourts around. I draw something up or if we teach something, there’s nothing in that play that says throw it away.”
Conversely, Houston scored 21 points over 16 turnovers by the Grizzlies.
The Musketeers (4-3) are coming off a stunning 78-76 home loss to Oakland of the Horizon League.
Xavier was unable to contain Oakland’s star wing Trey Townsend, who scored 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Townsend added seven assists and six rebounds with just one turnover.
“We haven’t trapped the post. There’s a myriad of different things. You try to build through the summer months through the fall,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “It’s the one thing we haven’t implemented. We didn’t have that in our toolbox. And I thought that if he would have had the ability to trap him. I don’t know if we would have won but (Townsend) probably wouldn’t have been 11-for-18.”
Townsend and other Oakland forwards were able to take full advantage of the growing pains for Xavier’s inexperienced front-court players.
The Musketeers have had to adjust to the losses of forwards Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter over the first seven games. Freemantle (15.2 points per game) and Hunter (7.8) contributed offensively during last year’s 27-win NCAA tournament team that reached the Sweet 16.
Xavier allowed the starting Oakland front court to convert 17 of 26 shots from the field for 43 points with 12 rebounds.
“We just didn’t have the ability to do that as well as I wish we would have and again, that’s the part when you build this with the new group,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of things we do have, one of which is our zone offense. I mean, we played that game with 19 assists and 10 turnovers. I thought our offense was plenty good enough to win.”
Desmond Claude has picked up the slack for Freemantle and Hunter over the first seven games, averaging a team-leading 16.7 points per game. Claude finished with 24 points against Oakland, shooting 7-for-10 on two-point field goals and 10-for-12 from the free throw line.
Abou Ousmane finished with a season-high 12 points while Quincy Olivari added 11 for the Musketeers. Olivari also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
The Musketeers finished with a 37-29 advantage on the boards and a 14-8 advantage on the offensive glass, outscoring Oakland 22-10 on second-chance points.
–Field Level Media
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