by Adam BurnsDaily Cougar Staff
DALLAS -- It happened again.
But not the way the Cougars wanted.
Known for overcoming double-digit leads, Houston instead coughed up a 33-21 first-half lead in a 62-57 loss to the SMU Mustangs Thursday night at Reunion Arena and were eliminated from the Dr Pepper Southwest Conference Tournament.
The No. 2-seeded Cougars (17-10) were up only 33-28 at the half, after SMU (8-19) went on a 7-0 run. Then the No. 7-seeded Mustangs slowly chewed up the rest of the UH lead in the second.
Tied at 51, SMU point guard Jemeil Rich stole the ball and triggered a fast break, ending with a layup by SMU guard Troy Mathews with 7:20 to play.
The score stayed neck-and-neck, but two questionable offensive fouls on UH's Tim Moore and Kirk Ford left Houston fans thankful that the referees will be officiating for the Big-12 next season.
After SMU went up 57-55 on a driving layup by Mathews, forward Jay Poerner scored the final five points for the Mustangs from the free-throw line.
After Damon Jones missed on a driving shot with less than 20 seconds left in the game, the Cougars were forced to foul Poerner, who hit both charity shots.
The Cougars turned the ball over on the next possession and had to foul Poerner again. He sank both free throws to put the Mustangs up 62-57 with five seconds left.
"I felt I had let the team down in the first half (after scoring only two points)," Poerner said. "There was no way I was going to miss those free throws."
Only guard Willie Byrd, with 11 points, scored in double figures for the Cougars.
Moore had a season-low eight points, all in the first half, and fouled out of the game with 16.8 seconds remaining.
"The shots just weren't falling for me late in the game," Moore said.
Moore, a senior, likely played in his last collegiate game (unless UH gets a postseason tournament bid). His eight-point performance broke a string of 63 games in which he scored in double figures.
SMU coach Mike Dement said he didn't have any special plan on stopping the Cougars' leading scorer.
"We just tried to guard everybody," he said. "
(The sub-par performance) is probably just Tim Moore not scoring.
"Maybe they didn't look to him, or he was just a little tired. That's just a little luck on our part."
Houston outrebounded the Mustangs 41-32, but they tied a season low with 36.4 percent shooting and a season-high 25 turnovers.
"We had been leading the league in field-goal percentage, and we go out and shoot 36 percent," said Houston coach Alvin Brooks. "Fifty-seven points isn't going to beat many teams.
The turnovers continued to haunt us, more so than usual."
Poerner summed up the SMU upset by saying, "This was a huge victory for us. I don't think we have won a tournament game in six years."
The last time SMU won a tournament game was in 1991, when it defeated No. 3-seed Houston.
Rich led all scorers with 14 points, and had five steals.