Dominant No. 2 Houston faces conference foe Cincinnati

Second-ranked Houston had just bludgeoned another opponent on the boards and Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson was in matter-of-fact mode when asked to dissect the performance.

The Cougars (15-1, 3-0 American) more than doubled the SMU Mustangs’ 26 total rebounds in their 87-53 home victory on Thursday, a win that kept Houston unblemished in American Athletic Conference play ahead of its road tilt against the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sunday.

Of greater significance than the Cougars’ plus-28 rebounding margin against SMU was their 21-7 advantage on the offensive boards that included Houston grabbing a whopping 56.8 percent of its missed shots. Freshman Jarace Walker, who matched his career high of 23 points, freshman Terrance Arceneaux and sophomore Ja’Vier Francis each recorded four offensive rebounds.

“We led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last year. We’re leading the nation this year. It’s part of our DNA,” Sampson said. “It’s the way we do it and we’ve been doing that for a lot of years. It’s another year that’s part of the things that we emphasize.

“People say, ‘How many offensive rebounds did you have?’ That’s not important. How many you have is not the goal. It’s the percentage of our misses (that) is the goal. The 21 (offensive rebounds) is not what floats my boat; it’s the over 50 percent of the misses we got is what our goal is.”

The Cougars’ handiwork on the offensive glass continues to allow for inconsistent shooting from their primary offensive weapons. Houston can thrive despite standout Jamal Shead missing all four of his attempts while the three-guard lineup of Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark and Shead finished a combined 8-for-23. Reserve guard Emanuel Sharp shot 1-of-9 but had nine boards.

Toughness on defense and the glass aren’t just program hallmarks, they’re what makes the Cougars largely immune to wayward shooting. When Houston rebounds, it typically succeeds.

After winning its AAC opener against Tulane on Dec. 29, Cincinnati (11-5, 2-1) split a pair on the road last week, including a 70-61 win at Wichita State on Thursday. Senior Jeremiah Davenport had his string of 52 consecutive starts snapped yet responded with a season-high 22 points off the bench that featured 6-for-9 shooting from behind the arc against the Shockers.

Davenport recorded his eighth career 20-point game and the most points by a Bearcats reserve since Jarron Cumberland also produced 22 off the bench against South Florida on Jan. 29, 2017.

The Bearcats were ahead 39-22 at halftime and led by as many as 22 points in putting behind them a nine-point loss at Temple last Sunday that snapped a four-game winning streak.

“Anytime you go on the road and get a win, you enjoy it,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said. “We played real well for 34-35 minutes, and I was real proud of the way we played after Temple a few days ago. We just need to get a little better at executing down the stretch and finishing games.

“There is a lot to learn from the end of that game, but now we can get some rest and get ready for Sunday.”

–Field Level Media