HOUSTON (AP) - Houston coach James Dickey said he hoped the Cougars were playing with a sense of urgency down the stretch.
After dropping two games against Cincinnati and Southern Methodist that they were in until the final minutes, Houston finally came through and got a much-needed win Saturday.
Danuel House had 18 points, including 8 of 8 from the line, as Houston held on for an 88-84 win over Central Florida.
The Cougars are sitting in sixth place in the American Athletic Conference with five games remaining. The top six seeds get a bye in the conference tournament.
“I would hope that everybody in our organization understands there is a sense of urgency down the stretch,” Dickey said. “We’re trying to fight for seeding, we’re trying to fight for that bye, and we’re trying to fight to win every possible game we can.”
Jherrod Stiggers added 17 points on 5 of 7 shooting from behind the arc, and L.J. Rose chipped in 12 points and seven assists for Houston (13-14, 5-9 AAC), which snapped its two-game losing streak.
“When it’s on it’s on, I guess it felt good,” Stiggers said of his shooting. “I just let it come to me. I focused on defense first, in and out, it’s basics. Yes sir. I’ve been working more, hitting the gym more working on my form, sometimes I twist my hand when I shoot and I’m just working on keeping it strong.”
Tristan Spurlock had 21 points, and Isaiah Sykes added 19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists for the Knights (10-15, 2-12).
Houston pushed its lead to seven with five minutes remaining, but the Knights answered with a quick 7-2 spurt to cut the lead to 74-72 on two Sykes free throws with 3:27 remaining.
The Cougars responded with 3-pointers by Brandon Morris and House, and two free throws by Rose over a 2 ½ minutes stretch, to bump the lead to 10 with 55 seconds remaining.
UCF coach Donnie Jones mentioned TaShawn Thomas, who passed out of the post on both of Morris and House’s 3-pointers, for the big assists.
“Our team came back and played very well offensively, but defensively, we couldn’t stop them,” Jones said. “We gave up too many two-point baskets and threes, and that was difference in the game.”
UCF lost its 11th in 12 games despite shooting nearly 48 percent in the game and hitting on 8 of 17 beyond the arc.
Jones said as a coach, the game was hard to watch because of the buckets they were giving up, but said there was a silver lining as their young team, which has only three seniors, gets better.
“We have a lot of young guys, who are getting better,” Jones said. “We are building for the future. We want to win now, but our kids are getting a lot of experience right now.”
Thomas had 11 points for the Cougars, who shot 58 percent overall for the game, including 10 of 16 on 3-pointers.
Despite the win, Dickey said Houston has to do a better job rebounding and handling the ball. Houston was outrebounded 39-27, including 18-6 on the offensive glass, and turned the ball over 16 times.
“We were too soft late in the game,” Dickey said. “We have to defend better, and we certainly have to rebound the basketball. I’m amazed that we got one more point off of second chance opportunities and turnovers, because they got so many off the offensive glass. They’re the number one rebounding team in our league, but we have to do a better job there.”
Kasey Wilson and Justin McBride had 10 points apiece for UCF. The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with 13 ties and 10 lead changes.
Houston shot just under 52 percent in the first half, including 4 of 7 from behind the arc, while UCF hit 48.5 percent and 5 of 9 on 3-pointers as the teams played to a 42-all tie.