CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Houston coach Kelvin Sampson knows there's plenty of work ahead for his sixth-ranked Cougars, even though they keep winning.

LJ Cryer scored 14 points, including a pair of 3-pointers after Utah had wiped out No. 6 Houston’s 14-point lead, and the Cougars beat the Utes 76-66 on Friday to reach the Charleston Classic championship game.

"My kids found a way to win. We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. We didn’t make free throws," Sampson said. “Sometimes the culture of your program, your DNA, knows how to win games like this.”

The Cougars shot 33% on 3s (8 of 24) and made only half of their 24 free throws. Still, they used the late rally to improve to 5-0 for the second straight season and reach the title game against Dayton on Sunday night.

“We're still finding our way,” Sampson said. “But a game like today is what tournament play is about. You've got to get outside the box.”

The Utes trailed 50-36 in the second half before Gabe Madsen hit three of his eight 3-pointers during a 20-6 run to tie it at 56-all with seven minutes left.

Terrance Arceneaux broke the tie with a bucket before Cryer, a Baylor transfer, hit two from beyond the arc to put the Cougars ahead 64-58.

Utah would not rally again.

Madsen finished with a career-high 29 points for Utah (3-1), and Branden Carlson scored 17.

Emanuel Sharp led the Cougars with 15 points, and Jamal Shead had 14. J'Wan Roberts had his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Utah was coming off a 77-70 win over Wake Forest in Thursday's opening round that included a career-high 31 points from Carlson.

The Utes were ahead 16-15 on Carlson's basket with 12:14 to go. Houston responded with a 24-14 run the rest of the half to lead 39-30 at the break.


Utah: The Utes' size will give Pac-12 teams plenty of fits this season. They feature a pair of 7-footers in Carlson and Lawson Lovering and have eight players at 6-foot-7 or taller. Houston's speed and defense kept Utah from taking full advantage of its size.

Houston: The Cougars are breaking in new players, including Cryer, who helped Baylor to a national title as a freshman. Sampson said he was drawing up plays down the stretch because of all the new faces who are unfamiliar with the Cougar way. Playing three games in four days - the tournament takes Saturday off in deference to college football - should help the bonding process.


Houston's Sampson quipped that it would be his team's “first true road game” on Sunday because of the loud, large group of Dayton supporters who filled the College of Charleston's arena. The Flyers and Cougars are both trying for their first Charleston title. Dayton has finished sixth and fifth in two previous appearances. This is Houston's first time at the eight-team tournament.


These teams met only once previously, back in December 1982 at the Suntory Ball Tournament in Tokyo when Houston’s Phi Slama Jama was in full flight. and led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Olajuwon had 30 points and 18 rebounds in the 82-57 victory.

Utah and Houston won't wait another 41 years before playing again. Both will be Big 12 Conference members next season.


Utah will take on St. John's in the third-place game Sunday.

Houston faces the Flyers, who defeated St. John's 88-81 earlier Friday to advance.


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