University of Houston guard Corey Davis Jr. can seemingly get his shot off whenever he needs to. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Breaon Brady fights for the University of Houston inside. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
University of Houston guard Corey Davis Jr. is the team's sometimes hidden star. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston forward Brison Gresham seems to pop off the bench blocking shots. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston freshman Nate Hinton is one of those four star recruits that the Cougars aren't supposed to be able to land. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has his team primed to do damage. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
TULSA, Okla. — “Miss!” The shout comes from the Georgia State bench, right behind where Corey Davis Jr. is lining up a wide open 3-pointer.
“At first, I couldn’t believe it,” Davis says later. “He thinks I’m going to miss a wide open 3?”
Davis shoots. He does not miss — and he turns to stare at the Georgia State assistant coach who trash talked him from the bench. It’s a long stare. A stare Alex Bregman would appreciate. And it’s warranted.
Apparently, Georgia State does not quite realize what drawing No. 3 seed University of Houston in the NCAA Tournament means. The Panthers and their dance happy coach Ron Hunter act like they think they’ve gotten a good draw — and hold a real upset chance.
Hunter calls Houston coach Kelvin Sampson “grandpa” before the game. He says he will be “extremely, extremely disappointed if we don’t win this game.”
Sampson’s players take notice. Their response?
Houston 84, Georgia State 55.
UH rolls into the second round, putting on one of the most dominant performances of the NCAA Tournament’s first full two days. There is never anything close to an upset alert in Tulsa. Not with the 11th ranked team in America taking the floor, determined to get back to the round where it was knocked out in excruciating fashion last March.
“We took it personally,” Houston senior center Breaon Brady says of Georgia State’s comments. “We don’t like anybody disrespecting our coach. We took it to heart.”
Who does Georgia State think it’s playing? Who does that assistant coach think Corey Davis Jr. is?
Davis is a cold-blooded basketball assassin and the most underrated guard in America. He’s not Ja Morant. TV networks aren’t falling over themselves to make Corey Davis the story of March. But his game can almost sometimes be nearly equally as sweet.
Houston’s unselfish offensive lifeline puts up 26 points, six assists, seven rebounds and a sweet plus 24 rating in Tulsa. Davis hits seven 3-pointers. He refuses to let Georgia State ever start dreaming.
When Davis gets going like this, his teammates know to get out of the way. And get him the basketball.
“When you see Corey start to play (air) guitar, you know it’s over,” Brady says. “We’ve just got to get behind him.”
That’s what makes this UH team such a unique challenge, what should make it an ultra tough out in this dance — there is quite the team behind America’s hidden star. Nine different Cougars play at least 13 minutes against Georgia State.
Brady and Brison Gresham throw down slams and muscle in shots inside. Fabian White Jr. grabs every offensive rebound in sight and steps up to hit his patented baseline jumpers. DeJon Jarreau pops off the bench play making, driving into the lane to set up several highlight alley-oops.
Houston is rolling, showing why the only team in America that can match its 32-3 record is uber dangerous Buffalo.
The Big Challenge
While Davis is the star, it’s Fabian White Jr. who plays the lead supporting role. White found himself directly challenged by two Sampsons late in the season. First, UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson (the head coach’s rising star son) challenged White. Then, Kelvin Sampson got in his face for a heart-to-heart that demanded more.
The meetings were intense — and telling.
“Coach Kellen challenged me,” White tells PaperCity in a quiet corner of the Cougars happy locker room. “Then, Coach Sampson. Both of them. They both basically told me that they needed a lot more out of me, which basically meant playing hard all the time no matter what.
“They told me I could make a big impact for this team.”
Consider it made. White puts up 14 points and 11 rebounds in the Cougars’ NCAA opener. For large stretches of the Georgia State game, he is the most dominant physical presence on the floor.
“Fabian is such a huge part of this,” Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity. “He has the ability to take this team to another level.”
That level morphs into a 29-point win on college basketball’s biggest stage Friday night. It also gives No. 11 seed Ohio State, the Big Ten team that will try to stand between UH and the Sweet 16 on Sunday plenty to think about.
Say hello to the Madness with style.
“We can’t take being in this position again for granted,” senior guard Galen Robinson Jr. says of once again being on the cusp of advancing to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. “A lot of teams don’t get back here.
“We’re worked too hard all season not to take advantage of this.”
Kelvin Sampson’s team is more than ready for this moment. Houston jumps out to a 15-3 lead, flexing its inside muscle with Brady and White. The Cougars look like the much more explosive team — with White rising above several Georgia State players to slam down one offensive rebound put back.
When UH’s offense bogs down a bit later in the half, when the adrenalin from this NCAA Tournament moment’s starting to wearing off a little, Davis steadies things. He hits a driving flip in the lane, a 3-pointer and another three after the 14th-seeded Panthers pull within 26-21.
Just like that, the Cougars are back in control. Cinderella will be going slipper-less in Tulsa.
No matter how many people yell out “Miss!” from their sideline.
“It’s a good way to win,” Davis says of the rout. “Everyone was able to get into the game and get rid of any jitters. Our young guys know what the tournament’s like now.”
So far, this NCAA Tournament is a chance for Houston to put on a show. Say hello to the Madness with style.