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No. 3 Houston pulls away late to avoid UCF upset bid

Dec 31, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1) drives with the ball as Central Florida Knights guard C.J. Kelly (13) defends during the first half at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Tramon Mark scored a game-high 19 points, and Marcus Sasser added 18 points with three steals as the third-ranked Houston Cougars edged the visiting UCF Knights, 71-65, in an American Athletic Conference game on Saturday afternoon.

J’Wan Roberts scored 12 points while Jamal Shead added 11 points and four assists for Houston (14-1, 2-0), which won its fifth straight game.

The Cougars are 46-7 since the start of last season. They have also won six straight against UCF and 10 of their past 11.

UCF (10-4, 1-1) was led by Darius Johnson, who had 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals before fouling out.

Also for the Knights, Taylor Hendricks and Ithiel Horton scored 14 points each, and C.J. Kelly added 11 points.

UCF showed some grit early, taking a 12-9 lead with 13:16 left in the first half. To get there, Hendricks hung in the air just inside the free-throw line, made a jumper and completed the 3-point play with a free throw. Then Johnson made a dish for a Michael Durr dunk, Kelly drilled a 3-pointer and Johnson drove for a layup.

After that, however, Houston took over, going on a 20-4 run. By halftime, the Cougars held a 39-31 lead.

Mark led all first-half scorers with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, including 2-for-2 from long distance. Sasser added 12 points. Kelly led UCF with 10 points.

UCF started the second half on a 9-0 run, taking a 40-39 lead with 17:20 left. Horton had seven of those points on a 3-pointer, a mid-range jumper and a dunk.

In fact, there were eight lead changes and three tie scores in the first 14-plus minutes of the second half.

UCF’s final lead came at 54-52 on Horton’s 3-pointer with 7:37 left.

The Knights had a chance to tie the score with 2:52 left, but Kelly went just 1-for-2 on the foul line, leaving the Knights short at 62-61. Houston then made 9 of 10 free throws in the final two minutes to hang on to the win.

For the game, both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor. Houston shot 6-for-19 on 3-point attempts (31.6 percent). UCF made 6 of 27 from deep (22.2 percent).

–Field Level Media

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