After Houston fell short at Cincinnati on Feb. 1, losing a 15-point lead and its cool late in the game, Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson was pleased with what he saw Thursday in a bounce-back win over visiting Tulane.
The next challenge comes Sunday when formerly ranked Wichita State (17-5, 5-4 American Athletic Conference) visits No. 25 Houston (18-5, 8-2).
Without guard DeJon Jarreau, suspended one game for biting a Cincinnati player on the leg while scuffling for a loose ball, the Cougars took care of the Green Wave 75-62.
Houston extended its record to 15-0 coming off a loss over the past three seasons.
“I’m proud as heck of this team,” Sampson said. “This team is tied for first place. Are you kidding me? Losing four starters. After 10 games, we’re 8-2 and 18-5. When you look at a game and they record it, they don’t put pictures of what happened in the game.
“It just says ‘W.’ It’s a good win for us.”
The Shockers have been shocked the past two games, losing at the buzzer at Tulsa on Feb. 1 and then coming up short in the final seconds at home against Cincinnati on Thursday. Jarron Cumberland’s three-point play with 3.5 seconds remaining lifted the Bearcats to an 80-79 win.
“That’s basketball man,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “It’s cruel sometimes. Great play by them at the end to win the game. Obviously, we didn’t want to foul. We didn’t want them to come off the 3-point shooters. We just had to try and contest, and he made a great play.”
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The Shockers have lost four of their past six games after a 16-1 start that saw them move as high as No. 16 in the AP poll. One of the defeats was to Houston, 65-54 at home on Jan. 18.
In that game, the Cougars’ defense limited Wichita State to 30.4 percent shooting from the field. At one point, the Shockers missed 18 consecutive shots.
Fabian White Jr. had 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting to pace four Houston players in double figures in that game. Jarreau added a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 10 boards.
“We did a really good job on their shooters,” Jarreau said. “I thought we just played to our culture, rebounding a defense.”
Without Jarreau against Tulane, the Cougars did not skip a beat.
Caleb Mills had 18 points, and Quentin Grimes added 15. Nate Hinton contributed 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Wichita State’s Jamarius Burton is two assists shy of 200 for his career. He can become the sixth Shocker to reach that milestone by the end of his sophomore season, joining a list that includes Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet.
Burton made a comment after the loss to Houston that it was difficult to simulate the Cougars’ size and athleticism in practice.
“At the end of the day, we had opportunities and we didn’t execute,” Burton said. “We didn’t take advantage of opportunities. They beat us on rebounds and 50-50 balls. I give them all the credit.”