Ten Conference USA teams cheered, or at least cracked a smile, when league co-leaders Memphis and Southern Mississippi were reeled back to the pack over the weekend.
It wasn't bad news for Marshall, which came back home from its win over Southern Methodist two games behind the Tigers and Golden Eagles, instead of a prohibitive three.
Four games remain for the Thundering Herd (16-10, 7-5 C-USA), three at home, and two of those home games against the aforementioned leaders. Opportunity awaits.
But Saturday night's final C-USA result, the Southern Miss loss, came with a heads-up to the Herd camp: The Golden Eagles fell 73-71 to a previously dormant Houston team.
Those same Cougars are next up on the Herd's docket, invading Cam Henderson Center Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tip. The win over Southern Miss broke Houston's four-game losing streak, an ugly skid featuring a 75-54 loss at Tulane and a 72-48 setback at Tulsa.
Houston (12-13, 4-8) took a 38-27 first-half lead on Southern Miss and surrendered it in the second half, but the Cougars rode an 11-2 run to regain the lead. Jonathan Mills' putback with 1:35 made it 65-62, and the Eagles got no closer.
That rebound underlined a major factor in the upset - Houston outrebounded Southern Miss by 11 and had a commanding 25-13 edge in second-chance points. That wasn't expected, but coach James Dickey prepared his Cougars for the necessary roughness that awaited inside.
"The practice squad helped us out a lot this week," freshman Tashawn Thomas said in the postgame conference. "Coach did not call any fouls at practice because he was preparing us for Southern Miss. The hard practices throughout the week helped us to play strong and tough for tonight."
Factor No. 1A was the play of junior guard Jonathan Simmons, honored Monday as Conference USA's player of the week. He scored 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor and 7-of-8 from the line. He also had eight rebounds and hit a 3-pointer to end the first half.
Starting three freshmen in recent games, the Cougars have had sizable peaks and deep valleys. For starters, they followed a win over Arkansas by losing five of the next six, though the last was a respectable five-point setback against Oklahoma.
A five-game winning streak followed, including an overtime victory in the C-USA opener against Tulsa. Since then, the Cougars have suffered two four-game skids.
Simmons leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points a game, followed by 6-foot-6 sophomore Alandise Harris with 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. At 6-8, Thomas leads in rebounding with 7.6, to go with his 10.6 points.
Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.