Aubrey Coleman notched a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, to lead five Houston players in double-figure scoring as the Cougars defeated SMU 85-76 in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament on Wednesday night.
The victory for the fifth-seeded Cougars (20-10) moved them into Thursday's quarterfinals against No. 4 seed UTEP, which split the regular-season series with Houston.
Qa'rraan Calhoun added 18 points for the Cougars and Zamal Nixon scored 17. Kelvin Lewis and Marcus Cousin also added 14 points apiece.
SMU (9-21), the tournament's 12th seed, was led by Derek Williams with 18 points. Paul McCoy added 13 points, Robert Nyakundi finished with 11 and Mouhammad Faye had 10.
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The Cougars opened the game on a 14-2 run, claiming a 41-30 halftime lead. The Mustangs trailed for the entire game.
"It was an up-and-down game," Houston coach Tom Penders said. "There was a lot of scoring, and a lot of nice plays by both teams. It's a great win for us -- number 20 for the season. That was one of our goals for the season, to reach 20 wins."
The Cougars controlled the boards 40-33, including 19 offensive rebounds. That led to 22 second chance points for Houston.
"We definitely focused on and talked a lot about (rebounding) and did rebounding drills," SMU coach Matt Doherty said. "It just didn't happen. Part of it is that they are so big, strong and athletic. Coleman (at guard) is a beast on the boards. When a loose ball comes off, he's after it."
Penders marveled at the number of Cougars in double figures, despite getting only two points from his reserves. He said the balanced scoring was a key to them staying ahead of SMU throughout the game.
"It was about letting the guys loose," Penders said. "Different guys came up big at different times. We went to the hot guys when they were on, and that is a credit to the kids."
Houston held double-digit leads throughout a good portion of the first half, and Nixon's tip in the final second gave the Cougars their 41-30 advantage at the break. Cousin and Nixon led the Cougars' scorers with 12 apiece after the first.
SMU didn't have a single player in double figures at the half.
While Houston struggled from beyond the arc before intermission (3 of 10), the long-range shots kept the Mustangs close. SMU made 5 of 9 from outside the arc in the half, Nyakundi hit three from outside for his nine first-half points.
Midway through the second half, both teams started settling for jump shots with little success. The Mustangs reliance on the long-range basket stopped benefiting them immediately after the break, as SMU missed five of its first six shots outside the arc to open the second half.
But Houston could not build a comfortable lead. The Cougars led by 10 with 10:49 left, but the Mustangs continued to battle, keeping the deficit between six and eight points. Seven straight points by Coleman rebuilt the lead to 79-68 with 2:55 remaining.
That gave the Cougars enough of a cushion to move into Thursday's game against UTEP.