|No. 24 Houston must keep guard up versus Saint Louis|
Houston is rolling, undefeated and ranked but the No. 24 Cougars know they will have to play better than in recent games if they want to continue their early-season success.
The Cougars will get another stern test Sunday afternoon when Saint Louis travels to the Bayou City for a dustup at the Fertitta Center.
In its first game since entering the national polls Monday, Houston rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to beat LSU 82-76 on Wednesday, in the process extending the nation's second-longest home winning streak to 22 games.
The Cougars overcame a foul-filled, turnover-laden first half to improve to 9-0, matching the 1969-70 squad for the second-best start to a season in school history.
Galen Robinson led Houston with 18 points while Armoni Brooks finished with 13 points -- all in the second half. Cedrick Alley Jr. scored 13 points and Fabian White Jr. added 10 for the Cougars.
Houston and LSU combined for 51 fouls and 76 free-throw attempts.
"We were just trying to figure out what we could run," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We came up with a game plan, but ours got thrown off the side of the boat real quick because of the foul trouble. I just didn't think we ever got into a rhythm."
The Cougars forged a 48-35 rebounding edge, with 18 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
"Our toughness in the second half is what made us pull through," Sampson said. "At practices going into every game, we work extremely hard at rebounding shots on both ends. We missed 36 shots tonight and had 18 offensive rebounds; that means we rebounded 50 percent of our misses. On a night that we didn't shoot the ball well, getting 13 points on the boards was big."
Saint Louis (7-2) had to stage its own second-half comeback in its most recent game, a 65-61 victory over Oregon State on Dec. 9. Guard Javon Bess pumped in a career-most 24 points and was a key contributor to the Billikens' lockdown defense with a career high-tying five steals as Saint Louis reeled off a 15-8 run over the final 5:46 to sweep to the win.
Bess canned 9 of 16 shots from the field and made three 3-pointers against Oregon State after he missed nine of 10 shots in the Billikens' loss at Southern Illinois on Dec. 5.
"I don't worry too much about numbers," said Bess, who has been playing through an ankle injury. "I got to practice and just tried to regroup. "
Bess scored seven points in the pivotal final stretch.
"He continues to amazing me with what he does," Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said about Bess. "He totally changed the game."
Freshman Fred Thatch Jr. had a career-high 16 points for Saint Louis, with Carte'Are Gordon tallying 11 points off the bench. The Billikens produced their best shooting game of the season from 3-point range, hitting on 8 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Saint Louis will be looking to avenge a 77-58 home loss to Houston last year. The Billikens have already posted two victories against teams that defeated them last year, Butler and Oregon State. Sunday's game against Houston will be the first for Saint Louis against a ranked opponent since the 2014-15 season.
This is the 38th meeting with Saint Louis holding a 24-13 lead in the series between the two former Missouri Valley Conference and Conference USA rivals.