(AP) – Caleb Mills came to life at the right time, sparking a huge second half by Houston.
Mills scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half to lead No. 22 Houston to a 76-43 win over Tulsa on Wednesday night.
“I came into the game, and I didn’t want to settle for three’s because it’s been off,” said Mills, who made 9 of his 16 shot, including five 3-pointers. “I started getting my shots, and it started coming to me.”
Mills, who is a redshirt freshman, had scored 10 points combined over his previous two games on 3 of 21 shooting and 0 for 8 on 3-pointers.
“Freshman hit that wall a little bit,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “They haven’t played basketball this long, this intense, this many games. The youngster over here (Mills) was hitting that wall a little bit. He struggled here lately. I told him at shootaround, he needed to start mixing some makes with his misses.”
Nate Hinton added 15 points for Houston (21-6, 11-3 American), which shot 41%.
The Cougars moved into sole possession of first place in the American with the win combined with Cincinnati’s loss to Central Florida on Wednesday. The Cougars rebounded after losing to SMU, 73-72, in overtime on Saturday and avenged a 63-61 loss at Tulsa on Jan. 11.
Martins Igbanu had 15 points, and Jeriah Horne added 12 points and seven rebounds for Tulsa (17-9, 9-4). The Golden Hurricane shot 35% but were 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “We didn’t make shots when we needed to, and we had the chance. We had some good looks. You got to give Houston credit. They started making shots and got going. That freshman kid, Mills, is really good.”
Houston opened the second half by outscoring Tulsa, 30-8, to take a 56-28 lead with 11½ minutes remaining behind Mills, who scored 20 points in the run.
“At halftime, we tweaked one thing with Caleb, making him a baseline runner,” Sampson said. “We told him to attack.”
With just under 13 minutes remaining in the game, Tulsa’s frustrations and tensions between the two teams heated up.
Haith was ejected with 12:50 left in the second half after receiving two technical fouls within two seconds.
After Igbanu was called for traveling on the ensuing possession, Igbanu shoved his shoulder into Fabian White Jr, who fell to the ground. The two teams had to be separated, and Igbanu and White were issued technical fouls on the play, while Elijah Joiner was ejected for an unsportsmanlike flagrant two technical foul for running up on to the play and needing to be held back by the official.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane has lost five straight to the Cougars in Houston, with their last win coming on Feb. 5, 2015. … Tulsa fell to 2-1 against ranked teams this season, with wins over Wichita State and Memphis coming at home. Tulsa last beat a ranked opponent on the road on Feb. 10, 2016 when it won at SMU.
Houston: The Cougars improved to 12-2 at home this season and have won eight straight at home. … Houston forced Tulsa in 16 turnovers and converted it into 18 points. … The Cougars are 6-0 this season after a loss and 16-0 after a loss over the last three seasons.
Houston guard Quentin Grimes left the game with 11:42 left in the first half and limped to the locker room. Grimes did not return. He is Houston’s second leading scorer at 12.3 points per game entering Wednesday.
“I do know that it is on his pelvis,” Sampson said. “The ball, the covering that goes over the top of it. He fell on top of that and hurt himself. I don’t have any other update.”
Tulsa hosts SMU on Saturday.
Houston travels to Memphis on Saturday.