MEMPHIS — Despite having lost two regular-season games to 25th-ranked SMU during the regular season, the Houston Cougars were not short on confidence entering Thursday’s quarterfinal game against the Mustangs.
In the second half, the Cougars’ lack of intimidation was apparent.
Sixth-seeded Houston upset third-seeded SMU 68-64 on Thursday by overcoming an early double-digit deficit in the second half. The Cougars (17-15) trailed by 10 early in the second half, but rebounded behind strong outside shooting to topple SMU (23-9).
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Houston coach James Dickey said. “I was proud of the way our guys came back and gave some flow to our offense (in the second half).”
Guard Jherrod Stiggers led Houston with 19 points, including five 3-pointers. Guard L.J. Rose added 16 points and forward TaShawn Thomas had 14.
Thomas had a key block in the closing seconds to deny SMU forward Markus Kennedy. Kennedy’s shot inside the paint would have tied the game at 64-64 with 14 seconds to go.
“TaShawn had a huge block,” Dickey said.
SMU was led by center Cannen Cunningham, who finished with 14 but had only two in the second half. Kennedy added 13.
The Cougars won for the fifth time in their last six games.
Houston never trailed after taking a 48-46 lead midway through the second half. SMU trimmed the deficit to one point (61-60) with four minutes left, but couldn’t get any closer. Two free throws by guard Danuel House with 13.7 seconds left gave Houston a 66-62 lead. Kennedy hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin.
“We got outplayed,” said SMU coach Larry Brown. “But when you make 4 of 19 in the second half … I just thought they punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond very well.”
Houston shot 48 percent in the second half and limited SMU to 25 percent (5 of 20) during the same span.
SMU opened the half by extending its nine-point lead at the intermission to double digits. Guard Sterling Brown’s layup early in the half put the Mustangs up 42-32.
Houston gradually chipped away at the SMU lead behind a flurry of 3-pointers to take a 51-46 lead. Stiggers had two of the 3-pointers during a 14-4 run that put the Cougars ahead 51-46.
“My mindset was you never know if this would be the last game, you never (know) if there would be a tomorrow,” Stiggers said. “So leave everything on the floor.”
SMU led 38-29 at the half behind Cunningham’s strong inside play and guard Nick Russell’s outside shooting. Cunningham hit 4 of 6 in the first half and had 12 points, while Russell dropped in two 3-pointers. The Mustangs shot 50 percent in the half.
While the lead changed four times in the opening half, the Mustangs built their biggest advantage in the closing moments behind a Russell-led 12-4 run to give SMU its nine-point halftime lead. Russell hit his two 3-pointers in the final four minutes and started the run with a trey to give the Mustangs a 29-25 lead.
Stiggers had 13 in the opening half to pace Houston. Stiggers was 3 of 6 from beyond the arc in the half.
NOTES: SMU G Nic Moore entered the AAC quarterfinal having missed only 17 of 109 free-throw attempts this season. He missed two in the second half. … With the win, Houston avenged a 68-64 (same score) loss to SMU during the regular season in Dallas and a 75-68 home loss. … G Jherrod Stiggers, who was 5 of 9 from 3-point range, has made a 3-poiinter in 10 straight games. During the stretch he has had eight games with three or more 3s. … Houston has three wins over Top 25 teams this season, including two straight. … SMU G Nic Moore was held without a field goal (0-for-9) for the first time this season. He was a first-team all-league selection.
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