Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Houston struggled offensively, and its usual tough defense was missing in the second half.
It looks as if it might be a short stay in the Top 25 for the Cougars.
No. 23 Houston, which entered the AP poll this week for the first time this season, gave up a season high in points and suffered through a dismal second-half shooting performance in a 91-85 loss to Memphis on Thursday night, ending a five-game winning streak.
Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory. Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers.
Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.
The Cougars (21-6, 11-4) shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half.
“We just missed a lot of open shots,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The same shots we’ve been making almost all year, didn’t go in. But give Memphis credit for making theirs. They made a lot of shots tonight.”
Memphis claimed its biggest victory of the season, holding on after leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower-body injury.
“I’m really proud of how our guys competed, especially without Jeremiah,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “But it just raised up everyone else’s level of play and their intensity. We had good balance throughout the lineup.”
The Tigers shot 61 percent from the field in the second half, including 4 for 8 from 3-point range.
Houston led 43-37 at the break, but fell apart in the second half. Eventually, a 16-4 Memphis rally erased the Cougars’ advantage.
“I have a mantra that I always live by,” Sampson said. “In games like this, the toughest team usually wins and the toughest team won.”
Both coaches were whistled for technical fouls near the game’s midway point. Sampson ripped off his tie as the half closed and then complained enough to draw the technical. Memphis made both free throws to open the second half.
Then Smith got a technical in the early stages of the second half, his first since becoming the Memphis coach last season.
“That was the first in a long time,” Smith said. “I can’t remember the last (one).”
Asked if his team was overconfident after finally reaching the Top 25, Sampson replied: “I don’t know. That would be conjecture and speculation. Our practices didn’t change. Our preparations didn’t change.”
Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, finished 11 of 29 from beyond the arc.
Memphis: With Martin back in the locker room with the injury, Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.
Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.
Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday
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