Wichita State couldn't get the ball in-bounds and, as a result, the 11th-ranked Shockers are headed home from Orlando without a championship.
WSU turned the ball over twice trying to in-bound it in the final 90 seconds, as Houston rallied for a 77-74 victory over WSU in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament. No. 22 Houston (26-6) advanced to play No. 8 Cincinnati (29-4) in Sunday's championship game.
Now the Shockers will return home to Wichita to learn Sunday if their 25-7 season is enough to hold onto a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Houston's Rob Gray became the seventh player this season to score at least 30 points against WSU's defense, scoring a game-high 33 and coming up with the game's most important plays to lead the Cougars to the come-from-behind victory.
Gray intercepted Landry Shamet's deep in-bounds pass from under the basket out to mid-court intended for Austin Reaves. Gray flipped it to a streaking Galen Robinson for the go-ahead basket, as Houston took a 75-74 lead with 1:29 left.
WSU had a final chance, with the same score, in-bounding on the sideline with six seconds remaining and four seconds left on the shot clock. But after a timeout, Reaves' sideline pass intended for Conner Frankamp was picked off by Houston. After a foul, Gray made a pair of free throws, then Shamet's final look from three wasn't close.
Shamet led the Shockers with 19 points, while Rashard Kelly came up with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. Shaquille Morris added 12 points and Reaves had 10.
WSU took a 6-2 early lead, but hit a five-minute scoring drought that featured seven straight empty possessions. But by the time Markis McDuffie's three-pointer bounced in with 10:57 remaining, WSU only trailed 10-9.
But the Shockers failed to make inroads because they could not stop the dribble penetration around the perimeter of Houston's lead guards. Corey Davis Jr., Houston's point guard, scored all eight points during an 8-0 spurt for Houston, as it established its largest lead of the half, 20-11, with 9:12 remaining.
Houston's defense didn't bully WSU off the ball as much as it did as the game in Houston, but the Shockers once again struggled to generate the typical clean looks they're used to finding. The result was 8 of 30 (26.7 percent) from the field with six turnovers, an offensive performance that was only salvaged by the team's 13-for-13 performance from the free-throw line. Houston led 37-31 at halftime.
WSU rallied to within four points twice and five points five separate times, but Houston always had the answer. Like when two Austin Reaves' free throws cut Houston's lead to 26-22, then Rob Gray answered with a three-point play at the other end. Or when Zach Brown made a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to 34-29, only for Armoni Brooks to drain a three-pointer seconds later.
It took the Shockers seven minutes into the second half to make their first rally, as Rashard Kelly made his second three-pointer of the season, then Austin Reaves rolled in a layup off the glass to cut Houston's lead to 47-45 with 12:18 remaining.
McDuffie and Darral Willis answered baskets by Houston, then Shamet scored on a graceful reverse lay-up and drilled a three to tie Houston at 54 points with 9:37 left. It was the first time in 24 minutes that the Shockers didn't trail, as Shamet showed his fiery side with a scream and motion to the yellow crowd to make noise.
Gray scored five straight to restore Houston's lead, but WSU roared back with a 6-0 run to take a 60-59 lead with 7:12 remaining, its first lead of the game since the opening minutes. The run was capped by an easy Kelly basket after Houston left him to double-team Morris in the post.
That kicked off an entertaining back-and-forth between the two ranked teams. Gray put Houston ahead on a three, then Kelly followed his own miss and gave WSU the lead back. Devin Davis gave Houston the lead, then Morris scored on a follow dunk to give WSU a 65-64 lead with 5:04 left.