HOUSTON — After building leads of nine and 15 points in the first and second half, respectively, Houston struggled to put South Florida away.
The Cougars needed a late run to seal the victory.
Danuel House had 17 points and nine rebounds as Houston beat South Florida 78-69 Tuesday to extend the Cougars’ win streak to four games.
L.J. Rose added 16 points and Jherrod Stiggers chipped in 15 points for the Cougars (16-14, 8-9 American), who shot 55 percent, including 12 of 23 3-pointers and made 12 of 14 free throws.
With the win, Houston clinches the sixth seed in the American Conference tournament with one more game remaining at Central Florida Friday.
Houston coach James Dickey said the inability to put the game away came from three areas, including not being able to get multiple stops on the other end.
“When you have a lead, there are three things that have to happen,” Dickey said. “One, you go down and turn the ball over, and we had too many turnovers. Two, you go down and quick shoot it and miss it. Three, you don’t get multiple stops on the other end.
“When you get someone down, you have to continue what you have been doing: be efficient offensively, take care of the ball and get stops.”
Victor Rudd had 25 points, and Martino Brock added 19 points for the Bulls (12-18, 3-14), who dropped their seventh straight game.
The Bulls hit 48 percent from the field but struggled from behind the arc, connecting on 1 of 9, and made 12 of 24 free throws.
USF can still finish eighth, ninth or tenth in the conference as it heads into the regular season finale Saturday against Temple.
“We couldn’t stop them from making those 3s. They just made them, made them, made them,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “At the same time, we didn’t do the job at the free throw line. Twelve of 24 and 10 missed free throws in the second half.”
With the game tied at 59, Rose hit a jumper to start a 15-3 spurt, capped by two Stiggers’ free throws with 52 seconds remaining. Rose had five points in the game-deciding run.
“We talked in the locker room before the game that we couldn’t have a letdown,” Rose said. “We felt like that was the only thing that could stop us from reaching our goal. We took care of business tonight. We have to get ready for Central Florida and get some momentum going into the conference tournament.”
After Houston pushed its lead to 15 to start the half, USF answered with a 12-0 run of its own to cut the Cougars’ lead to two on a Brock jumper with 10:47 to go. Chris Perry had five points to lead the run for the Bulls.
The Cougars pushed the lead to eight on a House layup, but USF responded once more with an 8-0 run to tie it at 59 on a John Egbunu layup with 5:33 left.
Houston opened the second half on a 19-6 run to open up a 51-36 lead after two House free throws with 13:33 left. Rose and House each had six points in the spurt.
Houston used a 17-7 run over a 5 1/2 minute stretch of the first half to open up a 22-13 lead on a House 3-pointer. House had eight points, and Brandon Morris had back-to-back 3-pointers to lead the run for the Cougars.
USF took a 30-29 lead with eight seconds left in the half on a Rudd dunk that capped a 9-0 run – seven scored by Rudd. However, Stiggers gave the Cougars a 32-30 lead at the half with a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt that banked in at the buzzer.