The Houston Cougars fell just short of securing a win against the conference leading Temple Owls on Sunday, which creates a regular season series split between the two. Kelvin Sampson’s team falls to 19-8 and 9-6 in conference, while the Philadelphia squad further solidify their place atop the standings, with a 10-3 record in conference.
Although clad in sleek black jerseys, and playing in front of a fairly decent crowd at Hofheinz Pavilion, the Cougars got out to a slow start. Offense was difficult to come by, and with 10:59 left in the first half, Houston was down 9-22. But they eventually found a groove, especially when leading scorer, Rob Gray Jr., came off the bench. Both Gray and Devonta Pollard led the Cougars in a whittling away of the deficit, getting Houston within 5 points as the first half drew to a close. Gray and Pollard went into the locker room with 11 and 7, respectively, and the score at 25-30.
As the second half began, the Cougars tied the game for the first time, after a Damyean Dotson three and a Pollard layup. And with 17:40 left, they got their first lead, when LeRon Barnes hit an impressive three. After trading points, the Cougars forced a momentum shift, and led by as many as ten. After earning this 54-44 lead with 11:05 to go, Temple clawed their way back, with timely three point shooting. With 57 seconds left, senior Temple Forward, Obi Enechionyia, drained a shot from behind the arch to tie the game, 64-64. And after a Pollard turnover, senior guard, Devin Coleman got another three for the Owls, giving them the lead with 16 seconds remaining. A Pollard layup and an attempt to foul wasn’t enough, and the Cougars lost, 66-69.
Although Houston outrebounded the Owls 42-40, they shot a mere 36.1% and had 10 turnovers. While Gray and Dotson scored 20 a piece, with Pollard adding another 19, the Cougars didn’t do enough to stop Obi Enechionyia and his 26 points. He shot 10-20 and had 6 threes, many of which were timely. The Owls also had another player with 9, and three with 8.
While Houston did lose this game, they had many chances to win it. They showed that they could play against the team that is increasingly looking like the strongest in the conference as the regular season is drawing to a close. The Cougars fell to fifth among post-season eligible teams in the American Athletic Conference, behind even Tulsa. But they showed enough to convince many that they could make some noise in the AAC Tournament, whose winner gets an automatic bid to the Big Dance. This is essentially Houston’s only chance at a berth. And while many AAC teams appear consistently stronger than the Cougars, I imagine that they aren’t a team that anyone really wants to play.
They can beat any AAC team in a given night, and almost did so against the conference’s best on Sunday. With games still remaining against UCF, UConn, and Cincinnati, the Cougars can gain some momentum going into the tournament if they can grind out some wins. I think it can happen. And other AAC coaches probably do, too.