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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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1-seed Houston loses to 4-seed Duke, 54-51, in Sweet 16

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POSTED: March 29, 2024 -- 11:43 p.m. CT

DALLAS, TX -- American Airlines Center

The Houston Cougars, the top-seed in the South Region, lost 54-51, to the 4-seed Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 of the 2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Houston's season ends with a Big 12 regular season title and a 32-5 record.

Houston's Emanuel Sharp game-tying 3-point attempt was on-line but just a bit short as the ball bounced off the as the game clock approached zero.

The Coogs jumped to an 8-0 lead as Houston's big man tandem of veteran power forward J'Wan Roberts and young center Ja'Vier Francis each scored 4 points in the paint.

Duke Duke's All-American center, Kyle Filipowski, made a three-pointer to end the Blue Devil's scoring drought.

The teams exchanged turnovers before Houston Emanuel Sharp sank a turnaround jump shot for a 10-3 Houston lead.

With 8:25 left in the first half, Houston led 14-7 when Roberts was whistled for an offensive foul as he tried to back down Duke freshman guard Jared McCain in the post. The foul was Roberts' second foul of the game. Roberts headed to the bench and with him went Houston's most reliable low post scoring option.

After another offensive rebound, McCain sank a 3-point shot to cut Houston's lead to 4 (14-10) with 8:04 remaining in the opening half.

After Filipowski rebounded a missed 3 by Houston's Ramon Walker Jr, Jamal Shead stole a cross-court pass and raced in for a driving layup to increase Houston's lead to 16-10 with 7:23 on the game clock.

Thirty seconds later, the game changed.

After Ja'Vier Francis blocked Mark Mitchell's jump shot attempt, Shead attacked the basket and rolled his ankle. Shead fell to the floor and stayed on the court in obvious pain. Minutes later, Shead was helped to the locker room. At halftime, Houston announced Shead had suffered a "severely sprained right ankle". Though he returned to Houston's bench after halftime, Shead never returned to game action.

Duke outscored Houston 13-6 to close the first half and lead Houston 23-22 at halftime.

"Grade four sprain," Kelvin Sampson, Houston Head Coach said of Shead's ankle injury. "He is probably going to be out four to six weeks. That was a really tough locker room at halftime."

"He (Shead) is a first team All American," Coach Sampson continued. "He is a Big 12 Player of the Year. He's a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He's the heart and soul of this team."

The second half featured 4 ties in the first 4 plus minutes. However, with Shead out of the lineup, Houston committed more turnovers (6) than turnovers in the first half (4). LJ Cryer ran the offense in the second half; and, though Houston shot well (50.0 fg%, 10 for 20), Cryer committed 3 of his 4 turnovers in the second half at key points of the game.

Houston trailed 45-39 before Ramon Walker Jr made a 3-pointer and J'Wan Roberts followed with a jump hook in the paint.

Filipowski swished a three-point shot with the shot clock winding down to boost Duke's lead to 4 (48-44) with 6:39 on the clock. Houston clawed within 2 on two separate occasions before Tyrese Proctor made a pull up jumper and Jeremy Road got free in the painted area and hit a jumper.

Houston trailed by 6 (54-48) with 1:15 remaining.

Emanuel Sharp scored a driving layup and was fouled on the shot. Sharp made the free throw to cut Houston's deficit to just 3 (54-51) with 48 seconds left on the clock.

Filipowski missed a jumper in the paint; and, Ramon Walker Jr rebounded the missed shot. Houston called a timeout with 16 seconds remaining. After the timeout, LJ Cryer missed a driving layup. The loose ball bounced out of bounds. Houston retained possession; and, set up the final play for Sharp. Sharp's game-tying attempt fell just short as Houston's season ends in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team, though," Coach Sampson said after the game. "We're still in a position to win the game. We held that team to 54 points. Second-chance points, they were plus 2. Points off turnovers, we were plus 5. Fastbreak points, they had none. We had two.

"We had some plays that I wish we would have made that we certainly could have made. We were in a position to win the game without Jamal. With Jamal, it's a totally different story, but that's neither here nor there, is it?

"Proud of my kids. Resilient, tough, just like they've been all year. My disappointment came not just in losing, but not being able to coach them tomorrow. I love coaching this team. I really did."

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