MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Houston wasn’t going to let No. 25 SMU win three games against them this season.
And the Cougars’ win on Thursday means they’re the ones advancing in the American Athletic Conference tournament, Jherrod Stiggers scored 19 points, including five 3-pointers, and Houston upset the Mustangs 68-64 in the quarterfinals.
“My mindset was (you) never know if this would be the last game,” Stiggers said. “Never know (if) there would be a tomorrow, so leave everything on the floor. Take everything they give me.”
The Cougars (17-15), who will face either No. 5 Louisville or Rutgers, which play later Thursday, converted 9 of 19 3-pointers in the game.
L.J. Rose finished with 16, hitting all three of his shots from outside the arc. TaShawn Thomas added 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, including a key one down the stretch, while Danuel House finished with 11 for the sixth-seed Houston.
“I thought once we played the game inside out, it opened it up for us, and we were much more efficient offensively,” Houston coach James Dickey said. “Then we complemented our offense with the defense at the other end.”
Cannen Cunningham led SMU (23-9), the tournament’s third seed, with 14 points, while Markus Kennedy scored 13 and grabbed nine rebounds. Nick Russell had 10 points.
Nic Moore, SMU’s leading scorer at 13.9 a game, had eight points, but missed all nine of his shots from the field. He had eight assists.
The Mustangs were within 64-61 when Kennedy went inside, but was blocked by Thomas, his fourth of the game, with about 17 seconds left and Houston held on from there.
SMU swept the season series with the Cougars, winning 75-68 at Houston and 68-64 on Feb. 19.
The Mustangs struggled after halftime, connecting on only 5 of 20 shots, allowing the Cougars to erase a double-digit lead early in the second half. SMU missed six of its last seven shots in the final 6 minutes. The only shot they made was a 3-pointer by Kennedy just before the final buzzer.
“(Kennedy) hits a three at the end of the game, but other than that we’re 4 for 19, and I don’t think one of those shots was guarded,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “Thomas makes a great block at the end. We’re 14 of 15 from the free throw line (when) the game is on the line, and we miss some free throws.”
After relying on Stiggers and Rose in the first half, the rest of the Cougars started to contribute after SMU had taken the lead to double digits – 42-32 – early in the second half.
Houston rattled off a 19-4 run with Thomas scoring five and Rose, Stiggers and Danuel House making 3-pointers.
That allowed Houston to overtake SMU for a 51-46 lead and Brown took a timeout. The Houston lead would eventually reach 55-47.
“I knew they wasn’t going to give up,” Russell said of Houston, adding: “We said we had to come out and win the first five minutes, but they came out stronger than us.”
SMU scratched back to make it 55-52 when Kennedy fell under the Mustang basket holding his right ankle. While he was down, Richardson scored on the other end for Houston for a 57-52 lead.
Kennedy returned, and the Mustangs would get within two points on a couple of occasions, but could never overtake Houston.
“It still hurts, but it’s no excuse for losing the game,” Kennedy said.
SMU led 38-29 at halftime as Stiggers and Rose were carrying the Cougars, scoring 23 of Houston’s points.
The inside-out strategy in the second half made a difference, Dickey said.
“We finally got some flow to our offense,” he said. “Down the stretch, we had some empty possessions, but they missed free throws, and I thought our defense and rebounding were key in the second half. And obviously, we had some balanced scoring.”
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