The Houston Cougars pumped fists and bumped chests.

Then came the smiles, a rare sight in a season that has offered very few reasons.

The Cougars pulled off their biggest win of the season Thursday night, upsetting No. 21 Memphis 77-68 in front of an announced crowd of 3,628 at Hofheinz Pavilion.

"We just told ourselves to not get punched first," forward TaShawn Thomas said of the difference from the first meeting against the Tigers when UH lost 82-59 on Jan. 23. "We were going to be aggressive and come out swinging first."

Danuel House had 19 points off the bench – including a big 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining – and the Cougars made nine free throws in the final 69 seconds.

UH (14-14, 6-9 American Athletic) won its third straight home game and strengthen its hold on the sixth and final first-round bye for next month's conference tournament.

With Memphis ahead 60-58 following a layup by Michael Dixon Jr. with less than six minutes remaining, Jherrod Stiggers hit one of his four 3-pointers in the game and Thomas made a spin move underneath the basket for a 63-60 lead.

Dixon made a layup and free throw to tie the game at 63. L.J. Rose made a pair of free throws following a foul by Joe Jackson to give the Cougars the lead for good.

UH made 21-of-29 free throws; Memphis was 9-of-10.

Thomas, who celebrated his 21st birthday Thursday, had 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The junior forward became the seventh player in school history with at least 1,300 points and 800 rebounds.

Stiggers had 14 points and Rose added seven points and 10 assists.