Written by Ernie Casanova
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ORLANDO, Fla. – With an AAC Championship game berth on the line, both Wichita State and the Houston Cougars were coming off of hard-fought contests from the night before. It was a game where defense and earned possessions mattered, as each team physically assured the other that it was going to be a tough battle. After many three-pointers and multiple shots from the charity line, Houston held on late to defeat the Shockers 77-74.

Things got off to a very slow start for both teams. As Wichita State scored the first basket of the game on a Rashard Kelly two-point jumper, Houston guard Breaon Brady answered back with a layup shortly after. Conner Frankamp scored a bucket of his own a couple of minutes later for the Shockers to give them a short lead of 4-2, but Houston went on an 8-0 run to spice things up a little bit. Wichita State was struggling from the floor early, shooting 5-17 in the first 11 minutes and committing four turnovers.

While the Shockers were in search for their momentum, the Cougars were capitalizing on their opponent’s missed chances. Houston scored five points off of six Shockers turnovers and was also thriving in the paint, scoring 16 of their 32 points there. Starting guard Corey Davis Jr. led the Cougars in the first half with 12 points while guard Rob Gray sat behind him with nine points of his own. For the Shockers, it was a community effort as eight players had at least two points. Guard Conner Frankamp led the team with seven points as Wichita State shot a sub-par 28% from the floor in the first half and the Cougars went into the locker room with a 37-31 lead.

In the second half, the game started to unfold much more quickly. Davis Jr. started things off with a smooth three-pointer to build a larger lead, but the Shockers weren’t having it. Wichita State’s Landry Shamet scored 8 of their next nine points, with two of those shots from beyond the arc as he traded a three-pointer with Davis Jr. on back to back possessions. At the 12 minute mark, Wichita State cut their deficit to two points after a layup by Austin Reaves made it a 47-45 game.

As Houston made it a trend to start slipping away with the lead, the Shockers kept answering back and eventually tied it with 9 minutes left to play at 54-54 on another Shamet three-pointer. Both teams played hard in the remaining minutes and kept trading buckets, but Houston didn’t want to give up just yet. The Shockers gained the lead with three minutes left, but a surging Rob Gray for the Cougars was annihilating his competition. Gray sunk in a crowd-silencing three-pointer to tie the game at 72 and add to his already spectacular numbers.

After Wichita State turned the ball over on an inbounds pass with five seconds left, the Cougars finished it off. Both defenses played tremendously in situational moments, but the 12 turnovers forced by Houston certainly didn’t help the Shockers. Leading Houston was Gray with 33 points, going 8-21 from the floor and 4-10 from three-point range. Behind him was Corey Davis Jr. with 19 points. The Shockers had Landry Shamet as their leading scorer with 19 points and four assists, with Shaquille Morris second in line with 12 points and five rebounds.

Houston will now return to the Amway Center on Sunday to face the Cincinnati Bearcats in the AAC Championship game at 3:30 PM ET.

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