PITTSBURGH — On Friday night, the fifth-seeded Houston Cougars took down 12-seeded UAB behind a strong first-half shooting performance in a first round NCAA Tournament matchup at PPG Paints Arena.
The Cougars opened up the game by hitting six of their first seven three-point attempts to build an early 16-point lead within the first ten minutes of action, and never quite looked back. Guard Kyler Edwards drained his first five three pointers of the night on his way to an impressive 17-point first-half showing.
At the half, UAB had the advantage in the field-goal department, shooting 62% from the field. Houston, on the other hand, shot 53% from the field. The difference, however, was beyond the arch. The Cougars hit nine of their 15 three-point attempts in that first frame to build their lead up to as much as 18, and had UAB struggling to keep it close.
While the Blazers cut it to nine at the half, they could not get any closer than seven points in the second frame, and Houston ran away with the win by a score of 82-68.
“We just have a lot of veterans, so we don’t get too high or too low,” said Houston’s Fabian White Jr. “And we know they’re a good team, so they are going to get on a run eventually. So we just have to stay even keel and just defend like we’ve been doing.”
“What Fabian said,” Edwards added. “We got a lot of veteran people, veteran guys on this group. When we get tired, it’s not like we just give up and lay down. I think we can push through that and push through adversity.”
For the Cougars, Edwards finished with a team-high 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting, while forward Fabian White went for 14 points and six rebounds. Jamal Shead also played an efficient 34 minutes, scoring 12 points, dishing out seven assists, and grabbing three rebounds. With the win, Houston advances to the round of 32 to take on Illinois on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
UAB had four double-digit scorers in the effort, led by Jordan “Jelly” Walker’s 17-point showing. Walker, the team’s leading scorer on the season, struggled mightily to find his rhythm outside, going 1 for 10 from three-point range in the loss. Tavin Lovan added 14 points, Michael Ertel scored 13, and KJ Buffen followed behind with ten points and a team-high 11 rebounds, as the Blazers finished their season with a record of 27-8.
“They made some tough shots, especially Ertel,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “He’s got such a quick release. He really explodes into his shot. Can’t say enough about Jamal Shead and the job he did on Jordan Walker. Our kids certainly heard enough about him. Rightfully so. Most of it came from us telling them how good he was. Because he is good.
Houston and Illinois will face off on Sunday back at PPG Paints Arena.