INDIANAPOLIS – Houston overcame a blown 17-point lead to hold off Oregon State 67-61 on Monday night in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four for the first time in 37 years.
Quentin Grimes hit a 3-pointer with 3:21 left to break a 55-all tie. The second-seeded Cougars (28-3) spent the first half building a big lead behind a dominant defense, but they spent the second half hanging on as the 12th-seeded Beavers tried to add one more surprising result to a Midwest Region bracket beset by upsets.
Grimes’ 3 from near the top of the arc finally steadied the Cougars, and Houston knocked down enough free throws down the stretch while holding Oregon State without a basket during a critical 3 1/2 minutes.
That sent the Cougars on to the national semifinals to face the Arkansas-Baylor winner.
It wasn’t always pretty, with Houston shooting 29% after halftime and 32% for the game. Yet it also exemplified the program’s rugged defense-first identity under Kelvin Sampson, who has led Houston to accomplishments it hadn’t matched since the famed “Phi Slama Jama” days of the 1980s.
Marcus Sasser scored 20 points to lead Houston while Grimes added 18. Fittingly, it was DeJon Jarreau -- the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year who led the effort that stymied Oregon State star Ethan Thompson -- who was named the most outstanding player of the Midwest Region.
Jarreau finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists two days after flirting with another triple-double and shutting down Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim in the Sweet 16.
This will be Houston’s first Final Four since Hakeem Olajuwon and coach Guy Lewis led the Cougars to the 1984 title game, in which they lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. When this one was over, Houston’s players sprinted to midcourt to celebrate, then migrated to the corner of the court near the Houston fan section and started jumping around -- and on top of each other -- in a celebratory mob.
Jarreau shared a long embrace with Sampson at midcourt, a reward for the seventh-year coach who has returned the program to national prominence.
Maurice Calloo scored 13 points to lead Oregon State (20-13), which was vying to become the worst-seeded team ever to make a Final Four -- not to mention extend a remarkable postseason run for a team that was picked to finish last in the Pac-12. But the Beavers dug themselves a huge hole by falling behind 34-17 at the break, then climbed all the way back only to see Grimes put the Cougars right back in front.
Thompson finished with 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting after averaging 20.3 points in the Beavers’ NCAA victories against Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago.
Oregon State: The Beavers were 14-12 to close the regular season before making an unexpected run to the Pac-12 Tournament title. That was likely their only path to an NCAA bid, and it opened the door for Wayne Tinkle’s squad to throw a bit of madness into March in only its second tournament appearance since 1990. Ultimately, the Beavers fell short of the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1963.
Houston: The Cougars stuck to what got them here. They held the Beavers to 35% shooting in the first half before Oregon State found some openings. The Cougars finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage and a 19-7 edge on the offensive glass. It was part of the toughness that Sampson has demanded regardless of whether shots were falling. Sampson is in the Final Four for the second time; he took Oklahoma there in 2002.
The Cougars will face either the third-seeded Razorbacks or top-seeded Bears coming out of the South Region on Saturday.