HOUSTON - Trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, the University of Houston men's basketball team closed out regulation on a 19-8 run and then rallied from four points down in the final 50 seconds in overtime to take an 81-76 win against Conference USA rival UTEP on Saturday evening inside Hofheinz Pavilion.
UTEP held a 58-47 lead with 6:44 remaining in regulation before the Cougars erupted on a 17-5 run during the next 4:40 to take a 64-63 lead on sophomore forward Alandise Harris' layup following the missed front end of a 1-and-1.
UTEP's Julian Washburn tied the game at 64-64 after hitting 1-of-2 free throws, but freshman forward TaShawn Thomas was fouled on an offensive rebound and calmly hit both free throws with 1:06 remaining.
UTEP's John Bohannon rebounded his own miss and laid it up in with 53 seconds left to knot the game again at 66-66. The Cougars worked the clock down, but a Simmons 3-pointer was off the mark, giving UTEP a last shot with 12 seconds to go.
After receiving a pass from Jacques Streeter, UTEP's C.J. Cooper drained a 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired. However, officials reviewed the video and determined that the ball did not leave Cooper's hand until after the buzzer sounded, bringing most of the crowd of 4,358 to its feet for the extra period.
Things did not start well for the Cougars in the extra period as UTEP built a 76-72 lead when Michael Perez connected on a jumper with 49 seconds left. Those would be the final points the Miners would score the rest of the way.
Harris quickly scored on a layup to pull Houston to within 76-74 with 40 seconds left. Following a UTEP giveaway, the Cougars called timeout to set up their play. Simmons drove hard to the basket and converted the layup before being fouled by Perez. The Houston native nailed the free throw to give the Cougars a 77-76 lead.
The Miners then turned the ball over for the second straight possession, and Harris was sent to the free throw line with 16 seconds left after being fouled. The Little Rock, Ark., native buried both attempts for a 79-76 lead.
Cooper missed the Miners' 3-point attempt on the ensuing possession, and after collecting the defensive rebound, Simmons was fouled and hit both attempts for the final margin of victory.
Simmons finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting with six rebounds while playing all but two minutes in the game. Thomas posted 16 points and 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double and fifth of the season, while Harris added 15 points and 12 boards for his first double-double this year.
Freshman point guard J.J. Thompson recorded 10 points with a pair of steals as the Cougars collected their seventh home win in their last eight games.
With Saturday's win, Houston improved to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in C-USA games. The Cougars split the regular-season series against the Miners after falling 70-50 in El Paso, Texas, on Jan. 7.
The Cougars also improved to 10-4 this season in Hofheinz Pavilion, their eighth straight 10-win home season. It marks the first time since the facility opened with nine consecutive 10-win home seasons that Houston has accomplished that feat.
UTEP dropped to 10-11 overall and 3-4 in C-USA games.
Bohannon posted 17 points with a game-high 13 rebounds, while Washburn finished with 16 points and eight boards. Perez added 12 points, and Gabriel McCulley totaled 11 points and three rebounds before fouling out.
The Cougars embark on a six-day, road swing beginning Tuesday when they face UAB at 8 p.m., Wednesday, in Birmingham, Ala. That game will be televised live on CSS,
From there, the team wraps up the road trip at Tulane on Saturday in New Orleans.
Fans can hear all Cougar Basketball games live on SportsTalk 790 AM with Tom Franklin calling the play-by-play action and Cougar legend Elvin Hayes providing analysis. The pregame show is slated to begin 15 minutes before tipoff.
Fans can follow live scoring by clicking the "GameTracker" link at UHCougars.com.
Fans also can hear live audio and watch live video via Cougar All-Access at UHCougars.com. Fans should note that a charge is required to watch and hear streamed games on-line.
THE PULSE WITH James Dickey
Fans should note that next week's edition of The Pulse with James Dickey will be held on a different day from its original schedule.
Due to the Cougars' travel plans next week, fans can join Coach Dickey, host Brett Dolan and a Cougar player at Home Plate Bar and Grill (1800 Texas Ave., Ste. 1800) in downtown Houston near Minute Maid Park.
Houston leaves for a six-day, two-game road trip at UAB (Wednesday) and at Tulane (Saturday) and won't return home until Sunday afternoon.
Single-game tickets are now on sale at the Houston Athletics Ticket Office. Fans can purchase their tickets by calling 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647) or by visiting UHCougars.com and clicking the Tickets tab and following the appropriate links or by clicking the Tickets link here.