Cougars ride big first-half lead to roll past Central Florida.
Cougars build 31-point first-half lead on way to 18th straight home win
During pregame warmups at Fertitta Center, Lionel Richie could be heard singing “easy like Sunday morning.”
It was an easy Sunday afternoon as well.
No. 11 Houston jumped to a 31point lead in the first half and cruised to a 75-58 victory over
Central Florida for its 18th straight win at home.
UH made four consecutive 3pointers to begin the game and eight of 10 field goals overall and led 12-0 before UCF made a basket. The Cougars shot 47.1 percent in the first half, taking a 38-9 lead on a three-point play by Brison Gresham with 3:43 left before intermission.
In a postgame Zoom call, coach
Kelvin Sampson came as close as he will to referring to any aspect of his team’s performance as perfect.
“It’s hard to play better,” Sampson said after UH won for the 11th time in 12 games this season. “You’re not going to play better than that. I thought our kids came out ready to play. We were excited to play.”
UH did not look like a team playing for the first time in eight days. A Thursday game at South Florida was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the USF program.
The Cougars opened with four straight 3-pointers — two by DeJon Jarreau and one apiece from Marcus Sasser and Quentin Grimes — as they built a double-digit lead and forced the Knights to burn a couple quick timeouts. For the rest of the first half, the Cougars scored at will, whether from beyond the 3-point line, on drives to the basket, via points in the paint, or even with some flair as Grimes’ no-look pass to Justin Gorham underneath pushed the lead to 23-4.
Late in the first half, the Knights (3-5, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) had more turnovers (eight) than points (six). As UH built a 31point lead, UCF went 10 minutes, 10 seconds without a field goal.
The Knights did not crack 10 points until the 3:25 mark in the first half. UH led 45-19 at halftime.
“It was a great game for us” said Jarreau, who had six points, four rebounds and five assists. “Everybody came out firing.”
Grimes had a game-high 18 points — his 11th straight game scoring in double figures — and five rebounds, and Gorham added 15 points and nine rebounds.
At 6-1 in AAC play, firstplace UH gets a chance to avenge its only loss — on a pair of free throws with onetenth of a second left on Dec. 29 — in a rematch with Tulsa on Wednesday at Fertitta Center.
UH should move back into the top 10 of the national polls when they are released Monday.
“We’ve played some great teams this year, and none have been better than Houston, quite frankly,” said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins, whose team finished with 20 turnovers. “The way they play the game, they are so connected. They play together. They play with such a physicality and aggressiveness for 40 minutes. I respect that as a coach. I respect the
way they play.
“They are the cream of our league.”
If UH players were to nitpick after the game, it would be about maintaining the intensity that built the insurmountable lead. Once Sampson began to empty his bench, UCF scored 14 points in the final 2:50. The Cougars missed 20 of 32 shot attempts in the second half and went 2-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We played good in the first half,” Gorham said. “I felt like we let up in the second half. We’ve got to come out in the second half with good energy and can’t let up.”
UH’s hot shooting from 3point range carried over from its previous game, a 7150 victory over Tulane on Jan. 9 that featured 15 3pointers. In each of the last
four games, UH has at least seven 3s, including eight Sunday.
But after going 5-of-6 on 3s to begin the game, the Cougars cooled off and made three the rest of the way. It did not matter. UCF never got closer than 17 points.
Sampson said Sasser and Cameron Tyson are UH’s
top 3-point shooters, while he called Grimes “streaky.” Gorham, a 6-7 forward, is still learning how to take the open shot.
For the season, UH has taken a league-high 290 3point attempts, converting 32.8 percent.
“When we had guys with great strokes like Damyean Dotson, Armoni Brooks, Corey Davis, they had a lot of good nights, but they had nights when it didn’t go in, too,” Sampson said. “That’s just the nature of 3-point shooting. As long as good shooters are taking good shots, eventually they’ll go in.”
Jamille Reynolds had 14 points and Darin Green Jr. and Dre Fuller Jr. 12 each for UCF.