HOUSTON – No. 8 Alabama could have called it a day when it was trailing by double-figures early in the second half.
The Crimson Tide didn’t, and earned another marquee win this season.
Alabama rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to stun No. 1 Houston 71-65 on Saturday, becoming just the second men’s team to beat two top-ranked teams in the same season.
Noah Clowney had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Jaden Bradley added 12 points and Mark Sears scored 11 points, including nine in the second half for the Crimson Tide (8-1). Alabama shot 50% from the field in the second half and 41% for the game. The Tide went 20 of 32 on free throws, including 15 of 21 in the second half.
“This is one of those character wins that shows that our guys are going to keep fighting no matter what the score is,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We could have easily given up down 15. The start of the second half wasn’t great. We made some changes with the bench guys. Hung in there, kept clawing away at the lead, finally able to take the lead and then we pulled away from them.”
The Crimson Tide beat North Carolina 103-101 in four overtimes on Nov. 27 and joins the 1990 Oklahoma team to take down two No. 1s in a season.
“Huge program win,” Oats said. “Not sure how many teams get the chance to play two No. 1 teams in nonconference, let alone beat them, but I think that shows where we’ve gotten this program to that we can play with anyone in the country at this point.”
Jamal Shead had 19 points and six rebounds, and Tramon Mark scored 10 points before fouling out with 8:10 remaining for Houston (9-1).
“That’s the No. 8 team in the nation,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “No shame losing to a really, really good Alabama team. Disappointing obviously. We haven’t lost a lot in this building.”
The Cougars shot 39% from the field, including going 1-of-8 to end the game. Houston was 3 of 13 on 3-pointers and 12 of 22 from the free-throw line.
“We just couldn’t guard,” Shead said. “We didn’t stand in front of the ball for like four or five straight possessions and that’s how they got back into it. And we just weren’t tough enough to finish it out.”
The game was tied at 63 following a Marcus Sasser free throw with two minutes left. Then Clowney put the Tide up by two with a layup with 1:12 remaining, Shead missed a jumper with 48 seconds left and Brandon Miller made two free throws five seconds later to push the lead to four.
After Reggie Chaney missed two free throws, Miller made two more free throws to give Alabama a 69-63 lead with 27 seconds remaining.
Trailing 57-49 with 8 1/2 remaining, the Tide went on an 11-3 run to cut the lead to 61-60 on a layup by Clowney with five minutes to go.
Houston used an 18-2 run to end the first half and start the second half to take a 44-29 lead with 17:13 remaining on a steal and layup by Jarace Walker, but Alabama responded with a 15-5 spurt to cut the led to five on a 3-pointer by Sears with 11 minutes left.
Alabama: Alabama outrebounded Houston 44-39 and got 27 points from its bench. The Tide improved to 3-1 this season against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
Houston: The Cougars missed a chance for a resume-building win and fell to 1-1 this season against Quad 1 teams. Houston forced Alabama into 15 turnovers but turned it into only 18 points.
Houston, which has been No. 1 for two weeks, will likely fall in the AP Top 25 poll, while Alabama should rise.
Alabama: Hosts Memphis on Tuesday.
Houston: Hosts North Carolina A&T on Tuesday.