The Houston Cougars entered Saturday night’s game victorious in their previous 19 games at home, all of which came at H&PE Arena which was only serving as the interim home arena while the Fertitta Center was completed.
The 19-game home win streak was tied for the second-longest active streak in the nation and the Cougars would have to topple a ranked opponent with a 7-foot-2-inch body to protect the post.
The No. 18 Oregon Ducks were invited to the grand opening of the Fertitta Center which greeted the visitors with a sell-out crowd in the first on-campus home game in two years.
Houston won the tip-off and secured a lead it would never relinquish courtesy of a three-pointer from junior Armoni Brooks.
From there, it appeared Brooks developed an allergy to regular jump shots inside the three-point line, making four of his first seven attempts before throwing up one shot inside the arch, which he also made, to lead the game with 14 points going into the half.
Brooks explained his hot hand was only so red-hot because of his teammates, saying; “During the first couple three’s I made, my teammates were telling me to shoot it. When you know your teammates have your trust like that it gives you extreme confidence in yourself.”
He wasn’t the only one atop the score sheet brimming with confidence though, as Nate Hinton joined him as only a freshman.
Hinton used the area inside the three-point stripe a little more than Brooks, converting all three of his shots worth two points and making all five free-throw tries he was given.
That’s not to say he never wandered beyond the three-point line because the one three-ball he did convert increased the Cougar lead to the largest of the night, 33-13, and forced one of three first-half timeouts from Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman.
He cited that although this is his first time on the college stage following his time at Gaston Day School in North Carolina, the red sea made him feel at home right away.
“This is my first college season, so everything is my first,” Hinton said. “I was trying to get adjusted to everything and the crowd just made it comfy. The crowd was definitely an advantage tonight.”
They were relied upon all game, but none as important as the final couple minutes of the game where the Ducks made a comeback to cut the deficit to single digits.
The run, which ended up being the biggest string of hoops for Oregon, was all started by a three-pointer from the 7-2 Bol Bol and only got the ball rolling.
However, just as soon as the Ducks sat only nine points away from a tie game, Corey Davis was fouled while attempting a three-pointer and earned the three points the hard way to push the Houston lead back to 12.
But the visitors hung around and wouldn’t go away, eventually bringing the lead back down to only five with 36 seconds thanks to a Bol dunk and-one which forced a timeout from Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson.
Watching that insurance decrease slightly, Sampson had only one thought running through his mind.
“When a team is coming back on you, most times it’s because of your contributions, let’s not get this twisted,” he started off. “We were turning the ball over and missing free throws. My thought was don’t turn the ball over and make your free throws.”
At the end that is what the Cougars were able to accomplish but not before making it a little more interesting following that Bol dunk.
Will Richardson buried a pair of free throws for Oregon with 23 seconds on the clock and Cedrick Alley was fouled right away to send Houston to the line.
Only one of the two shots went in to make it a four-point game and it was once again the towering Bol who ended up with the ball in the post and would not be denied, registering another dunk to push his total to a game-high 23 points and make the score 63-61 with only 10 seconds left to play.
It wouldn’t be enough time and Brooks nailed both of his free throws to round out a team-high 22 points and make the final score 65-61 to take sole possession of the nation’s second-longest active home winning streak in the inaugural game of something that has been in Sampson’s visions since taking this job four years ago.
“There’s always one first night for every organization,” he said. “As I was walking down the street coming from the Guy V. Lewis Development Center today, I had a lot of emotional thoughts, especially about April of 2014. I was thinking about when I first got here and about what this place looked like back then. There were so many things that had to be done, and it started with people making a commitment.”
That commitment will be expanded upon in a separate article on the Fertitta Center’s opening.