No. 23 Houston looks to stay perfect at home

Houston’s first stint in the Associated Press Top 25 will likely be a short one after a loss in its first game as a ranked team in 13 years, but the No. 23 Cougars must bounce back on Sunday against East Carolina if they want to keep alive their flagging American Athletic Conference title hopes.

The contest tips off at 3 p.m. EST at Texas Southern University’s H&PE Arena, the Cougars’ home away from home this season while the Fertitta Center (formerly Hofheinz Pavilion) is being renovated and updated.

Houston has won all 13 of its “home” games this season. The Cougars have not gone undefeated at home since the 1983-84 season when they went 15-0.

The Cougars (21-6, 11-4 AAC) head back to Texas following a tough 91-85 loss at Memphis on Thursday. Houston gave up a season high in points and suffered through a dismal second-half shooting performance after leading 43-37 at halftime.

“We just missed a lot of open shots,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The same shots we’ve been making almost all year didn’t go in. But give Memphis credit for making theirs. They made a lot of shots tonight.”

Rob Gray led all players with 30 points and seven assists while Houston’s Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks added 15 points apiece and combined for nine of the team’s 11 3-pointers in the loss to Memphis, which snapped the Cougars’ five-game win streak.

Asked if his team was overconfident after finally reaching the Top 25, Sampson said that would be conjecture and speculation.

“I don’t know — our practices didn’t change and our preparations didn’t change,” Sampson said. “In games like this, the toughest team usually wins, and the toughest team won.”

Houston is in third place in the AAC standings, two games behind Cincinnati and 1 1/2 back of Wichita State. With a win against East Carolina, the Cougars will clinch a first-round bye at the AAC Championship, which tips off March 8 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

East Carolina (10-16, 4-11) heads to the Bayou City after a 77-58 loss at home to SMU on Wednesday in which the Pirates shot just 35 percent from the floor and never led.

Isaac Fleming had 21 points to lead the Pirates, who had defeated Tulane and Memphis in their previous two contests. B.J. Tyson added 14 points but recent scoring leader Shawn Williams was 1-for-11 from the field, including 1-for-10 from beyond the arc.

“Our team was distracted, and as a coach you may have nights like this, but you always hope that you can find a way to get through a night like this,” East Carolina interim coach Michael Perry said. “We really struggled. The first half was telling as we came out flat and we dug a hole for ourselves. As a coach, you scratch your head sometimes to try to figure out how stuff like this happens.”

The Pirates are in 11th place in the AAC standings, one-half game behind Tulane.

East Carolina will be without junior Kentrell Barkley, who returned against SMU from a two-game team suspension only to be ejected from that game upon exchanging words with an official and receiving a double-technical. Perry said Barkley would not play at Houston.

Houston looks to complete the season sweep against the Pirates after winning 65-49 on Jan. 14 in Greenville, N.C.

The Cougars own a 13-5 edge over East Carolina in the all-time series between the two teams that began in 2002. They have won the past five games against the Pirates and are 6-0 against them in Houston.