(SportsRadio 610) - The No. 3 ranked Houston Cougars (19-2/7-1 AAC) took care of business on the road once again, beating the University of Central Florida (13-7/4-4 AAC) for the second time within the last month, 82-71 Wednesday night in Orlando.
Cougars freshman guard Emanuel Sharp led all scorers with 18 points off the bench, helping his team rebound from Sunday's loss to Temple.
Getting knocked off from the top spot after their loss to the Owls at home on Sunday, head coach Kelvin Sampson challenged his guys to look at themselves instead of the opponent and play up to their capabilities.
“The ranking thing, you know as far as the people that are ranked is a little bit overrated,” Sampson said. “We hear about that more than we think about it. Had we lost tonight there would’ve been a huge storming the court, right.
“I think we have a really good team but I don’t think we have a great team. This years team is not where last years team was because of the veterans. Last year we only had one freshman that even got any minutes, because we were old.”
The Knights got out to an 8-2 lead but the Cougars went on a 17-2 run to take a 19-10 lead, their largest of the half, and never relinquished the lead.
While UCF cut the deficit to four points at the break, Emanuel Sharp’s three second half three-pointers proved to be the difference, he finished 4/6 from long range in the game.
American Athletic Conference freshman player of the week, Jarace Walker added 17 points while Marcus Sasser recorded his 11th straight game in double-figures with 14 points.
Jamal Shead notched his second double-double of the season, scoring 14 points while dishing out 10 assists.
“Jamal Shead was the best player,” Sampson said. “His leadership, his toughness, gave our kids something to follow. And the fact that he’s at the point guard position makes it even more important.”
The Cougars, who shot just 34% from the field in Sundays 56-55 loss to Temple, hit their stride on the road against the Owls, knocking down 41% of their three-pointers (11/27) in the game.
Leading into Wednesday nights game, the Cougars talked about effort and not playing soft, as Jamal Shead characterized their performance against UCF earlier this season.
Sampson, whose team is the top ranked offensive rebounding team in the conference and 15th in the nation, averaging nearly 14 second chance opportunities per game, said that’s a big reason why they are successful.
“I don’t care how many we get, what I care about is the percentage of misses we get,”Sampson said. “We’re over 50% of our misses tonight, that’s part of who we are, that’s a huge emphasis for us. And we have not been rebounding well, I thought we were very below average (Sunday), but that’s effort man.”
It’s not enough to play hard, because everybody plays hard. The difference is competing, tonight we competed, (Sunday) we played hard. So when you compete, you have a much better chance to have success.”
The Cougars will host Cincinnati Saturday afternoon at Fertitta Center. Tip off is scheduled for 1:15pm CT and will be nationally televised on CBS.