HOUSTON (AP) Houston trailed by 11 points early in the second half and appeared headed for its second loss to No. 12 SMU this season.
That was when they started to fight back.
Devonta Pollard scored 23 points and Damyean Dotson added 13 as Houston rallied for a 71-68 victory over SMU on Monday night, just the second loss of the season for the Mustangs.
Pollard and Dotson keyed a 21-4 run midway through the second half for the Cougars (16-6, 6-4 American), which defeated a ranked team for the first time since beating No. 25 SMU in March 2014. The win was the first over a team ranked this high or higher since beating No. 3 Memphis in January 1996.
“There were a lot of turning points in the game,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When we got down 11, it was our fight. That is a part of our identity. Our kids stay together. They don’t back down.”
Both teams pointed to Houston’s 41-27 rebounding advantage as one of the keys to the Cougars’ win.
“We focused on defense and rebounding,” Pollard said. “Everything else took care of itself.”
Nic Moore had 16 points for SMU (19-2, 8-2), which has lost two of its last three after being the last unbeaten team in Division I. Ben Moore scored 12 points and Markus Kennedy had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs, who shot 8 of 27 in the second half and finished shooting 40 percent overall.
Houston shot 55 percent in the second half and 46 percent for the game.
“I think we have had slippage in a lot of areas,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “In some ways I think we are worrying about things that really aren’t that important. . We won by doing a great job on the boards, and we haven’t done that recently. I have seen it, but I also understood that every game will be a lot tougher based on how we started the season.”
After Houston pushed its lead to eight points, Nic Moore scored five straight points and Ben Moore cut the lead to 66-65 with two free throws with 2 minutes left. Following a free throw by Galen Robinson, Jr., Nic Moore and Dotson traded missed shots, and Kennedy was called for an offensive foul with 59 seconds left.
Pollard made two free throws with 46 seconds left to push the lead to 69-65, and Nic Moore’s 3-pointer was blocked by Robinson. Bertrand Nkali made a free throw with 26 seconds left, but Nic Moore hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two.
Wes VanBeck hit one free throw with 14 seconds left, and Jordan Tolbert’s 3-point attempt missed and Shake Milton could not get a 3-point attempt off in time.
“We didn’t play like ourselves,” Tolbert said. “We got out of what we normally do. We stayed in the game down the stretch. The last four or five possessions we didn’t get the look we were trying to get.”
Trailing 49-38 with just under 16 minutes remaining, Houston responded with the 21-4 run over the next 8 minutes led by nine points from Pollard and seven from Dotson. LeRon Barnes and Pollard capped the run with consecutive 3-pointers to give the Cougars their largest lead of the game, 59-53. The Mustangs went 1 of 11 from the field during the run and went 6:07 without scoring.
SMU opened the second half with an 8-2 spurt to open up a 47-36 lead on a 3-pointer by Milton with 17:26 remaining.
SMU: Milton added 10 points and Jarrey Foster had nine. … SMU shot 13 of 25 from the field in the first half. … The Mustangs hit on 20 of 23 from the free throw line.
Houston: Houston honored its football team at halftime. The Cougars went 13-1, won the American Conference and defeated Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Coach Tom Herman addressed the crowd along with Houston mayor Sylvester Turner. … Rob Gray, Jr., Houston’s leading scorer with a 17.3 average, missed the game with an ankle injury.
COOGS WIN WEEKLY AWARDS
Gray, a sophomore guard, earned the American player of the week award and Robinson, a freshman guard, earned the conference’s rookie of the week honor. Gray averaged 23.5 points in wins over Tulsa and East Carolina, while Robinson scored a career-high 19 points against Tulsa before adding 12 points and seven assists against ECU.
HE SAID IT
Tolbert on SMU’s missing effort: “To me, teams are more excited to play us than we are to play them. We have to get back (being) hungry. A lot of people are gunning for us now.”
SMU is at South Florida on Sunday
Houston is at Tulsa on Sunday