HOUSTON (AP) — Jarace Walker tied his season high with 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Marcus Sasser added 14 points and a career high-tying seven assists and No. 2 Houston used a big first half to beat SMU 87-53 on Thursday night.
Walker scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half as Houston (15-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) built a 49-23 halftime lead.
Walker said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has been on him to be more aggressive.
“Definitely, in practice and games, just asserting myself early but also making the right decisions,” Walker said. “Being aggressive doesn’t always mean taking the shot. I try getting downhill and making a play for a teammate or for myself, so I feel like I did that well tonight.”
Walker had 12 points combined over Houston’s last three games, including two points on 0-for-5 shooting against Central Florida on Saturday.
The Cougars have won six straight games since their only loss on Dec. 10 against Alabama.
J’Wan Roberts had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Tramon Mark and Terrance Arceneaux both scored 10 points for Houston, which shot 46%, including 10 of 30 on 3-pointers.
“I feel like it takes us to another level when (Jarace) and (J’Wan) are doing good,” Sasser said of the post players. “It makes the game easier because they both love to pass first, but when they’re being aggressive and scoring the ball, it makes the defense key in on them a little bit more. So it gives us open shots and opens up our offense really.”
Houston outrebounded SMU 54-26 and held a 35-6 advantage in second-chance points. Through Monday’s games, Houston was 15th in the nation with 13.5 offensive rebounds per game and 18th in rebounding margin with a plus-8.1 margin.
“It’s part of our DNA,” Sampson said of offensive rebounding. “It’s the way we do it. We’ve been doing that for a lot of years. … It’s just another year that it’s part of things that we emphasize.”
SMU coach Rob Lanier pointed to Houston’s 21 offensive rebounds in particular for what the Cougars did so well Thursday.
“What they always do is rebound the ball on both ends, particularly on offense,” Lanier said. “They crushed us. … Then they guarded us. They are the top defensive team in the country. They played like it, but our defense didn’t compete well enough to keep us close enough to change the tenor of the game.”
Efe Odigie had 14 points and Zach Nutall added 12 for SMU (6-9, 1-1). Zhuric Phelps, who was leading SMU with 18.4 points per game, finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Mustangs shot 31%, including 3 of 20 on 3-pointers.
“Tonight, we got humbled by the No. 2 team in the country that played like it,” Lanier said. “We learned a lot about how far we have to go if we want to compete at that level, and we got to take that lesson and use it.”
SMU took a 2-0 lead on a jumper by Odigie before Houston dominated from there, scoring the next 24 points over the next seven minutes to take a 24-2 lead on a dunk by Ja’Vier Francis with 12 1/2 minutes remaining. Walker had 11 points during the run.
SMU: The Mustangs fell to 0-3 against Top 25 opponents this season. … After making its first shot, SMU missed eight straight shots and committed four turnovers while Houston was on the game-deciding run. The Mustangs shot 28% in the first half.
Houston: The Cougars dominated in every aspect of the game, scoring 21 points off 11 SMU turnovers and holding a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint. … The Cougars dished out 17 assists on 31 made field goals. … Houston has won six straight against SMU in Houston.
SMU: Travels to Central Florida on Sunday.
Houston: Travels to Cincinnati on Sunday.