L.J. Cryer Scores 23 Points In No. 6 Houston's 66-60 Victory Over Xavier

Houston's Ja'Vier Francis (5) blocks a shot by Xavier forward Gytis Nemeiksa (50) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Houston's Ja'Vier Francis (5) blocks a shot by Xavier forward Gytis Nemeiksa (50) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
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CINCINNATI (AP) — L.J. Cryer scored 23 points and Jamal Shead had 13 to help No. 6 Houston hold off Xavier 66-60 on Friday night.

Houston improved to 8-0 for the second straight season and fifth time in school history.

“It’s December 1st,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Our team’s going to get a lot better. I’m sure Sean (Miller)’s will too. The best part of tonight was that we found a way to win.”

Quincy Olivari led the Xavier (4-4) with 17 points. Desmond Claude added 14 in the first meeting between the schools. The Musketeers were missing one of their best perimeter shooters, with Trey Green out with an illness.

Houston won its first seven games by an average of 26.8 points. But the Cougars were challenged in their first true road game against a Big East Conference opponent.

“I have no problem with our team’s effort,” Musketeers coach Sean Miller said. “We’re becoming battle tested and we’re learning. We know more about our team than we did a month ago. It’s hard to judge us in November.”

The Cougars started fast with Cryer connecting on his first three 3-point attempts for a 12-2 lead. Houston's defense was stifling early, forcing the Musketeers into seven turnovers in the first eight minutes.

“We had some head-scratching turnovers,” Miller said. “We will keep getting better. You have to hang in there with our team.”

Olivari hit three 3-pointers in the first half and the Musketeers rallied back from an early 12-point deficit.

Houston led 36-31 at halftime, with 22 of the points coming off 11 Musketeers turnovers.

Xavier outrebounded the Cougars 42-39. Houston came in with a rebounding margin of plus-10.

“Xavier, they played hard,” Sampson said. “They popped us in the mouth on the boards in the first half. In the first half they were the aggressor. That’s not something that usually happens to us.”

The Cougars went on a 10-0 run early in the second half to build a 13-point lead.

But again the Musketeers fought back.

The Cougars went more than six minutes without scoring and the Musketeers took advantage with a 10-0 run.

“We just had to take it one possession at a time,” Cryer said. “We were going in some scoring droughts. Just trying to get as many good shots up as possible.”

With Houston leading by nine, Sampson was whistled for a technical for his reaction to a foul call.

Claude hit two free throws, and Gytis Nemeiksa's jumper cut it to 46-41.

Two free throws by Claude put the Musketeers ahead 52-51 with 6:47 left. But another scoring drought for the Musketeers allowed the Cougars to pull away.

There were 50 fouls called and the teams combined for 55 free throws. Houston's Joseph Tugler fouled out, along with Xavier's Claude, and five players finished with four fouls.

“Some of it is a byproduct of playing on the road,” Sampson said. “We had five straight possessions where we had four fouls. It’s your first road game, tough environment. You can't blame the officials.”

BIG PICTURE:

Houston: Cryer, who transferred from Baylor in April, has made an immediate impact for the Cougars, averaging a team-leading 17 points.

Xavier: The Musketeers have 10 newcomers, including six freshmen and four transfers. With a lot of new faces and inexperience, inconsistency has plagued them.

UP NEXT:

Houston: Hosts Rice on Wednesday night.

Xavier: Hosts Delaware on Tuesday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball