SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Junior guard Troy Houghton, who scored a career-high 19 points — all in the second half — led the (RV) USF Men’s Basketball Team (3-0, 1-0 NSIC) to a 68-55 home win over (RV) Upper Iowa (2-1, 0-1 NSIC) as NSIC South Division play opened on Friday night at the Stewart Center.
Coming in the game, the nation’s top scoring offense, Upper Iowa (108.5 ppg), was pitted against one of the best defensive squads, USF (64.0 ppg), and on this night defense prevailed. Led by Houghton play on both ends, a dominant rebounding effort and strong play on the bench, USF moved to 3-0 on the season, 1-0 in South play, with the win over UIU, which had defeated the Cougars twice a year ago. Now the UIU-USF all-time series sits, 9-8, in favor of the Peacocks as both teams will gather again tomorrow at the SC for a 4 pm contest.
Aside from Houghton, who had his 11th career-double digit game, redshirt freshman guard Jake Kettner had a career-night for the Cougars, contributing 11 points (4-of-8 from the field, 1-3 from 3), eight rebounds, and three assists. It was Kettner’s first career double digit scoring game.
Houghton hit 7-of-13 field goals and 5-of-5 foul shots, all a career-first. In addition, senior forward Teathloach Pal also added 10 points and six rebounds and recorded back-to-back three-point plays late in the second half. Pal now has opened the 2020-21 season with three straight double digit scoring games and has 27 in his career.
USF Head Coach Chris Johnson, who recorded his 236th career victory, including the 220th at USF, was pleased with his team’s effort on both ends in the second half.
“I was really proud of Troy (Houghton), who had a couple of tough moments in the first half,” said Johnson, who picked up career win 236 (220 at USF). “He was a dominant force in the second half, scoring 19 points. He finished strong and played really well defensively like he always does. Plus, we had a lot of really good performances across the roster, including Austin Slater on defense and Tessy Pal, who played a strong second half after foul hampered him in the first 20 minutes. I also was pleased with the efforts of our younger guys like Jake Kettner, Noah Puetz and John Henry,” added Johnson, who was the NSIC Coach of the Year in 2019-20.
Overall, the Cougars hit 25-of-62 from the field for 40.3 percent after shooting just 27.3 percent in the opening half. While USF was just 4-of-19 from three-point range, the Cougars made 14-of-14 at the foul line and with a 46-27 rebound margin controlled the inside. USF had a 38-to-20 margin with points in the paint. With 15 offensive boards, USF had a 17-to-9 margin in second chance points. UIU was 16-of-55 from the field for a season-low 29.1 percent and just 6-of-30 from three-point range for 20 percent. However they did convert 17-of-21 foul shots.
In a game, USF led from start to finish, the Cougars opened up an early 5-0 lead and took a 25-19 lead at the break. The first half was controlled by the defenses as neither team shot over 25 percent. USF, on the strength of a 15-0 point edge in bench scoring, took a 25-19 lead.
USF, which led the entire half, took its biggest lead of the half at 23-16 with 3:04 to play after a Chase Grinde, who had eight points and a season-high nine rebounds, knocked home a three pointer. Both Grinde and freshman John Henry had five points to lead USF, which had points from seven players.
Jareese Williams led UIU with nine. The Cougars hit 10-of-36 shots from the floor for 27.8 percent but were just 3-of-15 from three-point range and 2-of-2 at the foul line. UIU was 6-of-26 from the floor for 23.1 percent and 2-of-14 from distance for 14.3 percent. The Peacocks made 5-of-6 free throws. USF’s control of the glass proved beneficial. The Cougars had a 27-17 advantage, including 11 offensive boards which enabled them to have a 9-4 edge in second chance points.
In the second half, Pal scored a couple of baskets inside as the Cougars took a 29-23 advantage at the 16:28 mark. After UIU’s Jake Hilmer, who led UIU with 17 points, hit a three, Houghton scored inside and Wesley Oba had a pair of foul shots. At the 12:29 mark, Kettner hit his first career three as the Cougars took a 39-33 lead.
After Houghton hit a pair of foul shots, USF had an 11-point lead at 44-33 with just under nine minutes to play. After UIU’s Lucas Duax hit 2-of-3 free throws, Jack Thompson’s jumper gave USF a 46-35 lead with 7:46 to play. Thompson finished with five points and a steal. Then Houghton scored eight straight points as the Cougars took a 52-39 advantage at the 5:57 mark. USF led a couple of times by 13 points in the last five minutes before UIU closed under double digits. But Pal’s two three-point plays and USF’s perimeter defense didn’t allow UIU closer than eight points in the final three minutes of the game.