Houston Cougars vs. Jackson State Tigers Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 9th 2023

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All of the hallmarks were present for the third-ranked Houston Cougars on Wednesday, with their drubbing of crosstown rival Rice offering the latest showcase of their annual commitments.

Houston (9-0) beat the Owls 75-39 at Fertitta Center, stretching its home-court winning streak to 10 games while remaining unbeaten through the first nine games for a second consecutive season. The Cougars accomplished those feats by the usual means: defense and rebounding.

The Cougars, who will host Jackson State on Saturday, forced 21 turnovers and posted a plus-14 rebounding advantage. They entered Wednesday’s game leading the nation in scoring defense at 50.4 points per game and second in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 34.9 percent. The Owls shot 28.9 percent and missed 16 of 21 3-pointers in addition to their woes on the glass and with ballhandling.

“We’re getting better (defensively),” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Our responsibilities, execution. It’s not easy being a good defensive team. It’s not. Not all defensive teams are built equal. They’re all different.”

The Cougars’ ability to blend effort and connectivity defensively continues to undergird their overall success. At this relatively early stage of the season, their offense remains inconsistent, particularly perimeter shooting. But the Cougars’ defensive verve is not only central to their unblemished start, it is key to their long-established identity.

Case in point: Sophomore guard Emanuel Sharp scored 12 points in the win over Rice and is considered one of the Cougars’ more prolific shooters. He made half of his eight shot attempts and combined with LJ Cryer, who tallied a team-high 15 points, to drill 7 of 16 3-pointers.

Though Sharp is second to Cryer in scoring at 11.6 points per game, his emphasis starts with his handiwork defensively and on the glass. Such a focus has served as a fundamental tenet for Houston, so much so that a score-first guard has fully bought into the philosophy.

“I mainly try to get it started on the defensive end or on the boards,” Sharp said. “That’s what the coaches tell me is the best way. If you go out there trying to get it on the offensive end, it’s most likely not going to come.

“Just trying to get comfortable on defense and with my rebounding usually translates to my offense.”

Jackson State (2-6), based on recent results, appears primed for the stiff challenge ahead.

After earning their first victory of the season by completing a rousing 73-72 road upset of Missouri on Nov. 19, the Tigers toppled Arkansas State 75-71 on Nov. 28 — also on the road.

Junior guard Chase Adams capped the stunning victory over Missouri with a jumper in the waning seconds that burnished two-way performances from Ken Evans Jr. (22 points and three steals), senior forward/center Jordan O’Neal (18 points, two steals) and junior guard Coltie Young (14 points, two steals). Jackson State turned 10 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points in the win.

The Tigers again dominated the glass against Arkansas State, producing a 44-30 rebounding advantage with 15 offensive rebounds yielding 12 second-chance points. Evans, a junior guard, posted 32 points, five rebounds and two steals en route to his fifth game of at least 20 points this season.

–Field Level Media

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