HOUSTON (AP) Trailing by double digits midway through the first half, SMU didn’t panic. The Mustangs had the confidence to dig their way out.
Semi Ojeleye had 18 of his 22 points in the second half and No. 19 SMU rallied to beat Houston 76-66 on Saturday.
Ojeleye also had nine rebounds, and the Mustangs have won 10 straight and 20 out of 21.
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”This is a team that has hearts of lions,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. ”This is one of the top competitive, big-hearted, refusing to go down teams that I have been around, and how can you not respect the heck out of them? How can you not love coaching them?”
Ben Moore had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Sterling Brown had 16 points and Jarrey Foster added 10 points for SMU (24-4, 14-1 American), which shot 46 percent, including 56 percent in the second half.
Houston opened up a 22-9 lead midway through the first half on Wes VanBeck’s 3-pointer. SMU answered with an 11-0 run to tie it at 26 on Ojeleye’s dunk with 1:13 left.
”We said we needed to make a run at the end of the first half, and we knew we had them,” Ben Emelogu said.
SMU shot 79 percent from the free-throw line, including 19 of 23 in the second half.
Rob Gray Jr. had 23 points to lead Houston (18-8, 9-5), which ended a five-game winning streak. Damyean Dotson had 19 points, and Galen Robinson Jr. added 11 points for the Cougars, who shot 41 percent and hit 9 of 27 from behind the arc.
”Sometimes you have to get some breaks, and sometimes you have to make your breaks,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. ”When the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it.”
With the game tied at 51, Brown hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-2 run, capped by a three-point play by Brown with three minutes remaining.
Houston closed within 63-59 on Dotson’s 3-pointer with 1:33 left, but SMU went on an 8-3 spurt to lead to 71-62 with 48 seconds left.
”We talk about before games that there are going to be runs, and we don’t flinch,” Jankovich said. ”We just play the next play and hope over 40 minutes, what we are doing is going to be better than what they are doing.”
SMU: The Mustangs had to rally for a second straight game after also falling behind by double-digits Wednesday against Tulane before winning by five. SMU has to get more scoring from its bench, which only contributed eight points, all from Emelogu. SMU outrebounded Houston 40-33 and had 32 points in the paint.
HOUSTON: The Cougars are still looking for a marquee win this season as they remain in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth. Houston has to find more scoring outside of Gray and Dotson. The Cougars also struggled from the free-throw line, shooting 5 of 11.
SMU: The Mustangs got two wins this week and should at least stay at No. 19 but could move up a spot or two.
A sellout crowd of 8,479 was in attendance for the thriller. It was the largest crowd at Hofheinz Pavilion since Jan. 30, 2008, when 8,918 saw Houston lose to No. 1 Memphis, 89-77.
HE SAID IT
”We’re chasing the championship, we’re chasing Cincinnati, we’re chasing a bid, we’re chasing a seed. My experience is that they can’t wait until you lose and use it against you. They are all pressure games, but I do think because of the quality of this team, and the way they have been playing, this will give us a little more of a boost than some others would have.” – Jankovich on the importance of the win.
SMU: Travels to Connecticut next Saturday before ending the regular season at home against Tulsa on March 2 and Memphis on March 4.
HOUSTON: Hosts Connecticut on Wednesday before going on the road to Memphis on Feb. 26 and No. 18 Cincinnati on March 2.