Two winnable conference games eluded the Houston Tigers.
After blowing a 17-point second-half lead in Friday’s 58-51 loss to Mountain View-Liberty, the Tigers stayed within striking distance, but never could get over the hump in a 50-41 loss Tuesday night to Cabool.
The close losses left Houston (4-14, 0-4 SCA) still looking for its first conference victory.
“We’re going to keep working to try to get better,” Tigers coach Aaron Griffin said.
There have been several frustrating losses in a difficult season, but Friday’s defeat was easily the most gut-wrenching.
Liberty scored the first 21 points of the fourth quarter as part of a 23-0 run as the Eagles rallied in a contest Houston appeared to have control of.
Liberty’s rally was aided by a blowup by sophomore Travis Barker, who received two technical fouls and was ejected after shoving a player in the back. The Eagles, who trailed 46-36 at the time, made five free throws on the possession and scored 14 more points in a row to go ahead by nine.
Houston, which led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, didn’t score the first 7 minutes, 27 seconds of the fourth quarter and were outscored 24-5.
“Some things didn’t go our way and we got rattled,” Griffin said. “Not as bad as we did against Thayer, but similar. We let the adversity effect the way we played.”
Griffin said he saw the energy sucked out of his team when Barker, who due to MSHSAA rules had to sit out of the Cabool game, was ejected.
“I’m not saying it’s Travis’ fault because it’s a team thing and a team loss, but that was kind of the final straw that got them going,” Griffin said.
Michael Buckner hit four 3-pointers and led Houston with 19 points. Senior Tyler Pounds had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers, who had a 28-8 edge on the boards.
David Weybright, who missed the first 16 games after ACL surgery on his knee, had two points in his first action of the season.
Houston, which lost to Liberty by 29 points just 18 days ago, took control of this one from the get-go.
Buckner’s triple and a pair of free throws put the Tigers in front 11-4, and the lead stretched to double digits when Buckner hit Pounds underneath the basket for an easy layin to make it 25-14 midway through the second quarter.
Houston, which led 33-18 at the half, had a 17-point lead on Pounds’ layin with 5:43 left in the third quarter. But Liberty (14-7) used a 10-2 run to close the gap and was behind by 12 entering the fourth quarter.
The Tigers only had one lead against Cabool – sophomore Ryan O’Neil’s layin off the opening tip. But they stayed close throughout.
After falling behind 11-4, Houston trimmed the deficit to three on Pounds’ trey and was only behind by one when Buckner stole the ball and coasted in for an easy layup.
The Bulldogs (9-13, 2-2 SCA) never relinquished their advantage, though.
Cabool stretched its lead to seven early in the third quarter and pulled the Tigers out of their zone defense by stalling at halfcourt.
The Bulldogs consistently broke down defenders with dribble penetration from guards Matt Roberts and Nathan Stoutenborough. The two, who are ranked second and third in the conference in scoring, had 18 points apiece.
“Their guards really hurt us,” Griffin said. “We couldn’t contain them because they kept getting by us.”
Pounds had another strong outing with 15 points as the lone Tiger in double figures. Giorgio Russo scored eight and Buckner, who hit one 3-pointer just two away from Nick Carter’s single-season record of 67, had seven points – all in the second quarter.
Houston had success with a new offensive set that isolated Pounds in the post. But Griffin said his team was too impatient with running the play.
“When he did get it, he either got fouled or he’d finish,” Griffin said. “He’s got to get in position for us to give it to him, and we’ve got to be looking for him when he’s open.”
The Tigers got within four points when Pounds tip-toed along the baseline and scored early in the fourth quarter. But they never got closer.
Griffin said his team settled for – and missed – too many perimeter shots.
“At times we had looks at the basket and we’d either miss it or not shoot it,” he said. “When you’re wide open on the block and passing it out, that’s a problem. We need to be finishing those.”
JUNIOR VARSITY: Justin Beasley scored 17 points to lead Houston past Cabool 38-29 Tuesday night.
The Tigers, who got seven points from Preston Wade and six from Brad Pounds, held Cabool scoreless in the first quarter.
On Friday, Jonathan Page scored 13 in the Tigers’ 40-39 loss to Liberty.