Inspired play by Wichita State basketball not enough, as Houston pulls away for late win
Published in Basketball
WICHITA, Kan. — It must have felt like déjà vu to Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson at Koch Arena on Thursday.
Back in the Roundhouse with a striped-out and energized Wichita State crowd and a national audience on ESPN watching, Houston’s final trip to Koch Arena before departing for the Big 12 had strikingly similar circumstances to its first trip back in 2018.
But this Houston squad is the No. 1-ranked team on KenPom.com and the NET for a reason. The Cougars showed why when they absorbed WSU’s best punch and still came out standing with a 70-61 victory on Thursday.
It was the most inspired effort of the season from the Shockers against the first top-3 team to come to Wichita in more than three decades, but it was not enough to register their first win against a top-3 team since knocking off No. 2 Louisville on Feb. 25, 1967.
After succumbing to the Koch Arena electricity in 2018 and 2021 and needing two overtimes to prevail last year, Houston once again brought out the best in the Shockers.
The Cougars survived an early WSU push out of halftime to build a 7-point lead, then steadily chipped away behind its star freshman Jarace Walker, a 6-foot-8 likely future NBA lottery pick.
Walker hit a corner three to trim WSU’s lead to 50-47, then tied the game at 54 with another triple with 6:11 remaining. A third 3-pointer by Walker, once again stationed in the corner, put Houston on top 57-54 with 4:19 left.
Jamal Shead added a layup and then Tramon Mark drilled another triple to cap an 11-1 run to give Houston a 62-55 lead and force WSU to call a timeout with 2:45 remaining.
Three missed free throws by WSU in the final four minutes hurt, but Houston scored too easily down the stretch. Back-to-back dunks by J’wan Roberts in the final two minutes all but sealed the victory for Houston, which kept its lead atop the American Athletic Conference standings by improving to 21-2 overall and 9-1 in conference play. WSU dropped to 11-11 overall and 4-6 in conference play.
WSU junior Jakywon Walton was the best player on the floor for the Shockers, matching his career-high of 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. WSU outscored Houston by nine points in his 27 minutes on the floor.
James Rojas once again scrapped his way to a solid effort, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Houston’s pressure had WSU star point guard Craig Porter (7 points on 2-of-14 shooting with five turnovers) out of rhythm the entire game. WSU finished shooting 38.9% from the field and scored 0.97 points per possession, but perhaps the most impressive feat from the game was grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and out-boarding Houston by five.
All five of Houston’s starters were in double-digit scoring, led by 15 points from Walker and Marcus Sasser.
A repeat performance from five years ago felt possible when Walton drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Shockers a 10-2 lead and forced Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call a timeout to stem the tide, just like he had to do five years ago.
The Cougars responded with an 8-0 run to take a 12-11 lead. When WSU answered back with its own 8-0 run, with all points being generated by attacking the rim, Houston once again showed its mettle on the road by methodically chipping away at the lead.
Houston’s late push for a 30-29 halftime lead also occurred in the final seven minutes when Walton, tagged with his second foul with 7:18 remaining, was on the bench after scoring 12 points in less than 11 minutes.
Walton was again brilliant for WSU early in the second half, drilling a triple and then scoring inside on acrobatic finishes while being fouled for two separate three-point plays. Walton’s flurry highlighted a 13-3 run by the Shockers to establish a 47-40 lead with 14:40 remaining.
©2023 The Wichita Eagle. Visit at kansas.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.