HOUSTON -- Playing without its leading scorer did not prevent Houston from pulling off a 71-68 upset of No. 12 SMU on Monday night at Hofheinz Pavillion.
Guard Rob Gray, who leads the American Athletic Conference in scoring at 17.3 points per game, sat out with an injured ankle. Forward Devonta Pollard helped to make up for his absence with 23 points and seven rebounds.
Gray also missed the Jan. 19 meeting against SMU in Dallas, when Houston gave SMU a serious challenge before falling 77-73.
"We just battled," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We played with a lot of toughness, a lot of heart. We didn't play very good at times. We didn't play very smart at times. But we never stopped fighting, and there's a lot to be said about a team that will keep fighting."
SMU, which started the season 18-0, has now lost two of its last three games and stands at 19-2 overall and still in first place at 8-2 in the American Athletic Conference.
The Mustangs led by 11 early in the second half, but could not sustain its advantage despite 16 points from point guard Nic Moore and 12 each from forwards Ben Moore and Markus Kennedy.
By the time the game ended, SMU forward Ben Moore had fouled out and three other Mustangs had four fouls each. SMU has just seven scholarship players.
"We took advantage of their depth," Sampson said. "They have three post guys, so we wanted Pollard to drive it as much as he could at (Ben) Moore, drive it at (Jordan) Tolbert. Drive it and get to the free-throw line."
SMU led by eight, 53-45, with 13:35 to play when momentum shifted in Houston's favor.
The Cougars (16-6, 6-4) went on a 14-0 run to go up by six, 59-53, with the last six points coming on consecutive 3-pointers by guard LeRon Barnes and Pollard. Pollard scored half of Houston's points during the run.
While SMU went cold from the field, seemingly everything was going in for the Cougars. With six minutes left, Houston's second-half shooting percentage was 71.4 percent while SMU was at 26.3 percent.
SMU trailed by eight, 66-58, with 3:40 left but had a chance to tie at the end. After Nic Moore hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, Houston guard Wes Van Beck missed the second of two free throws to allow SMU to tie with another 3-pointer.
SMU had 14 seconds left to work with, but managed only one attempt, a missed 3-pointer by forward Jordan Tolbert, before time expired. Houston blanketed SMU's Nic Moore, who hit four 3-pointers in the game but could not get a shot on the final possession.
Houston guard Galen Robinson Jr. left the game with 13 minutes left in the first half with a bruised tailbone. Robinson, who returned in the second half, suffered the injury when he collided with Nic Moore, who drew a charging call.
Not long after Robinson exited, SMU went on a 12-2 run to post a 25-18 lead with 5:26 remaining in the half.
Houston did not let SMU run away, however, and cut the lead to three, 37-34, when guard Damyean Dotson scored on a drive with 15 seconds to go in the period. Dotson finished with 13 points.
Freshman guard Shake Milton scored with five seconds left to give SMU a 39-34 lead at halftime.
NOTES: SMU guard Nic Moore was named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award on Monday. Moore is also on the Wooden Award midseason Top 25, Naismith Trophy and Oscar Robertson Trophy watch lists. ... Houston swept the American Athletic Conference weekly awards. Guard Rob Gray was named AAC Player of the Week, coming off a 31-point game at East Carolina, and guard Galen Robinson Jr. was named AAC Rookie of the Week. ...Monday's game featured the top two scoring offenses in the AAC. SMU averages 80 points per game and Houston 78.6 per game.