Houston lost for the first time this season and will no longer be the No. 1 team in the country when it hosts North Carolina A&T on Tuesday night.
The fifth-ranked Cougars (9-1) blew a 15-point, second-half lead during Saturday’s 71-65 loss to then-No. 8 Alabama but coach Kelvin Sampson made it clear there is no reason to panic over the setback.
“That’s the No. 8 ranked team in the nation, so no shame losing to a good Alabama team,” Sampson said. “Disappointed, obviously, since we haven’t lost a lot in this building (Fertitta Center), but give Alabama credit. They did a great job in that second half.
“We could have played better, but we just have to stay with it. It’s a long season. We have only played 10 games, and last time I checked, we have to play (at least) 22 more.”
Alabama’s point total was easily the most allowed by the Cougars, who ranked second in scoring defense (49.7 points per game) entering Sunday’s play. The previous high came in a 66-56 win over Oregon on Nov. 20.
Guard Jamal Shead was highly disappointed in the way his team defended — or didn’t defend.
“We just couldn’t guard,” Shead said. “We just stood in front of the ball for four or five straight possessions, and that was how they got back in it. We were not tough enough to finish it out.”
Shead stood out with a season-best 19 points to raise his average to 7.9. Leading scorer Marcus Sasser had just nine on 2-of-11 shooting as his average dropped to 16.1.
In fact, Houston didn’t shoot well in any facet. The Cougars made just 39.1 percent from the field, were 3 of 13 from 3-point range and were a shaky 54.5 percent (12 of 22) from the free-throw line.
Still, Houston led 62-60 with just over three minutes left before Alabama ended the game with an 11-3 burst.
“We put ourselves in a position that we could win, but we just have to finish and make shots,” Sampson said. “If they go down and score, you have to answer.”
North Carolina AT&T (4-4) has won its past three games but hasn’t played since recording a 73-56 home win over UNC Greensboro on Nov. 30.
That victory is the Aggies’ lone win over a Division I foe this season.
Kam Woods scored a season-high 23 points in the win and he leads North Carolina AT&T in scoring (17.0) and 3-pointers (21) and is tied for the team lead with 12 steals.
“He’s naturally a scorer, but he’s learning to run our sets and play within the team concept,” Aggies coach Phillip Shumpert said. “He’s still a work in progress, but as we continue to grow as a team, he’s starting to buy in more and more. But there’s no question he’s our energy guy.”
Marcus Watson (14.3) and Demetric Horton (11.6) also are averaging in double digits. Horton is the other player with 12 steals.
North Carolina AT&T didn’t fare well in two other games against power conference foes, falling 112-71 to Iowa and 80-43 to Iowa State.
This is the second meeting between the schools. Houston beat the visiting Aggies 71-67 on Dec. 28, 2011.
–Field Level Media