After tight loss, No. 14 Houston forges ahead vs. Louisiana

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A controversial ending dampened what was a spirited performance on the road for the 14th-ranked Houston Cougars, who dropped their first true road game Saturday at Alabama.

Houston will look to bounce back Wednesday against visiting Louisiana.

The Cougars took an 83-82 loss to then-No. 9 Crimson Tide when a goaltending call at the buzzer did not materialize. The conclusion undermined what might have been another signature early-season win for Houston (8-2).

“I think I was anxious before the game started because I had never seen this group play on the road,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “You always want to see how your team is going to play their first true road game. It’s never easy to play on the road. It’s hard to beat a good team in their gym.

“We’re a good team, and as the season goes on, we’re going to get more production from other guys.”

In some ways it was an uneven performance for the Cougars, who entered the weekend allowing just 53.4 points per game, second nationally. Houston’s leading scorer on the season, guard Marcus Sasser, led the team with 25 points but missed 17 of 25 shots. The Cougars did corral 21 offensive rebounds, with J’Wan Roberts grabbing nine, but they missed eight free throws.

Houston finished with a plus-23 margin in field-goal attempts and scored 23 second-chance points, but poor shooting — the Cougars shot 42.5 percent overall and missed 17 of 26 3-point attempts — mitigated those advantages. The Cougars committed 28 fouls and had four players with four: Reggie Chaney, Fabian White Jr., Kyler Edwards and Jamal Shead.

Still, despite leading for just 4:47 in a game that featured 11 ties and 15 lead changes, the Cougars had three shots at the rim in their final possession, needing just one conversion to win. The final result left the Cougars incensed, but there were positives gleaned from the effort.

“We played good enough to win,” Sampson said. “The whistle blows (for goaltending), we walk out with a great win. Let’s not sit here and overanalyze this. Our kids deserved to win the game.

“Did we play perfect? No. I’d like to play perfect, but this is not a game of perfection. This is a game of resiliency and our team is very resilient. To come on the road with a freshman point guard and with three first-year guys for us never having played a road game, I thought our kids played tough.”

Louisiana forward Kobe Julien said the Ragin’ Cajuns (5-4) were “real close” and “on the verge” following an 83-68 victory over McNeese on Dec. 8 that marked the Cajuns’ second consecutive win overall, with both coming against in-state rivals. But that modest streak came to an end on Saturday with a 78-69 road loss to Louisiana Tech that stalled momentum.

It has been a streaky start for Louisiana, which opened the schedule with three consecutive wins only to drop the ensuing three contests, including a surprising home setback to Jackson State. Now with the Cougars on deck, Louisiana will need a strong effort to avert back-to-back defeats.

–Field Level Media

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