Attempting to secure a four game winning streak, the Houston Cougars fell to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 77-63. Without Rob Gray Jr, Houston’s leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the American Athletic Conference, who was out with a left ankle injury, the Cougars never really got into any rhythm on offense or defense.
In the initial minutes of the game, both teams struggled to score. With 6:18 left in the first half, Galen Robinson Jr hit a difficult off balance shot from far past the three-point line, getting the Cougars within one point of the Golden Hurricane, 19-18. After he made this, however, he was given a technical foul for with gesturing or saying something to a fan that had presumably criticized him.
After this fiasco, Tulsa began to pull away with the game. The Cougars couldn’t stop Pat Birt, who was 10-18 on field goals and 5-10 from the three-point line, earning 27 total points. The Junior Plano, Texas native had one of the best games of his season. Although he has averaged only 11 points a game, as of late he has begun to find his rhythm, with four games of 20 points or more since the New Year.
Season long Tulsa leading scorers James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison scored 15 and 10 respectively. The Golden Hurricanes saw a dominant performance from Birt, but many players played offensively and defensively sound, especially as the game progressed.
The Cougars, on the other hand, struggled on all phases of the game. Damyean Dotson led all scorers in red, with 23 total points. He was the lone bright spot on offense, going 9-17 and hitting four three pointers. He also became a 1,000-point collegiate scorer, with 272 of them for Houston. Ronnie Johnson and Devonta Pollard both had 13 points. Pollard, though, had to sit out for significant stretches because of the fouls he had picked up. Due to this, Houston had problems defending Tulsa and securing rebounds. While rebounding is usually a strength, the Cougars were on the losing end of this statistic, 33-22.
Without Rob Gray Jr, Houston played well against SMU. But with Pollard on the bench for long stretches, and Birt playing as well as he did, the Cougars struggled mightily against Tulsa, a team they defeated 81-66 a little more than a week prior.
After the loss, Houston falls to 16-7 overall and 6-5 in conference, dropping them to fifth among post-season eligible teams. Tulsa, who came into this game tied with the Cougars in conference, elevated themselves to fourth. In a league projected to receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament, Houston is increasingly unlikely to receive the at-large bid. There is a chance, however, that the Cougars could win the American Athletic Conference Tournament, and earn the automatic bid. With Rob Gray Jr likely to return in Wednesday’s home game against against Memphis, nothing is impossible, though.
Everyone in the American Athletic Conference is now looking up to Temple, who is 8-3 in conference, ahead the standing for post-season eligible teams. The Cougars have already defeated them away, and play them at home on February 21. There is still a lot of basketball left to be played. But Houston has some work to do.