HOUSTON — Devin Davis had this game circled on his calendar for a long time.
After suffering a deep cut on his finger that required stitches in last year’s 84-72 loss at Arkansas, the Houston senior forward said he had revenge on his mind on Saturday night.
Davis scored a career-high 28 points to lead Houston to a commanding 91-65 win over Arkansas.
“Personally, it was a payback game because I missed a lot of games from that injury,” Davis said. “It was a blessing tonight because our team played crazy good.”
The Cougars (6-1) built an early 11-0 lead over the Razorbacks (5-2) and never looked back.
Davis was 10 for 14 from the field and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line, adding 10 rebounds and two blocks. Corey Davis Jr. added 17 points for Houston, also a career high.
Late in the second half, with Houston already up 25 points and the shot clock about to expire, Davis heaved up a prayer from well behind the 3-point line and drained it, nothing but net. The Indiana transfer had only attempted four 3s in 55 career games entering Saturday night, making one.
After hitting the shot, all he could do was laugh and high-five his teammate Rob Gray.
“It felt good to have that one go in,” Davis said.
Houston held Arkansas scoreless for the first six minutes, 41 seconds, and the Razorbacks didn’t score their first field goal until nearly eight minutes into the game.
Arkansas’ Anton Beard hit a deep 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to cut Houston’s lead to 44-29 at the break.
In the second half, Davis caught fire, and Houston hit clutch shots from 3-point range, finishing the game 10 for 21 from beyond the arc.
“We’re getting better,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “This was a good step for us, but there’s a lot of basketball left.”
Jaylen Barford and Beard led Arkansas with 13 points apiece, and C.J. Jones added 11 points off the bench.
In the series between two former Southwest Conference foes, the Razorbacks had previously defeated Houston in eight of their last nine meetings.
“It was just their night,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Early in the game, I thought we got off to a slow start, and that gave them the confidence moving forward.”
Arkansas: Following a 102-67 win over Connecticut on Nov. 26 — the Huskies’ most lopsided loss in 40 years — Houston exposed weaknesses the Razorbacks will have to improve before beginning their conference slate on Dec. 30 against Tennessee.
Houston: Although Arkansas was unranked, beating a respectable SEC team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year gives the Cougars confidence moving forward and could start earning them looks in the polls.
Sampson said he put Davis in the starting lineup because he and Galen Robinson Jr. are Houston’s best defenders and wanted them to focus on Arkansas’ Barford and Daryl Macon.
“It gave me an edge to know that coach Sampson had the confidence in me to put me in the starting lineup and put me on one of their best scorers,” Davis said. “We were never content. At no point in the game were we ever content. We had to play hard defense, 40 minutes strong.”
HE SAID IT
On the larger-than-usual crowd in attendance on Saturday night, Sampson didn’t hold back.
“I’ll be glad when our program gets to the point where people come to see us play again. I get it, people came to see Arkansas tonight. I get that. I wish people would come see us play sometime. Because I feel badly for our kids, I really do. Maybe we’ll pick up some fans after this win.”
Arkansas takes on Colorado State on Tuesday before hosting No. 12 Minnesota on Saturday.
Houston faces Fairfield and Saint Louis, which have both lost four of their last five, before another SEC test at LSU on Dec. 13.