The Houston Cougars survived Marcus Sasser’s early exit and an otherwise sloppy effort to beat 16-seed Northern Kentucky, 62-53, and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham.
In the final minutes of the first half, Marcus Sasser re-aggravated his groin injury and spent the rest of the game on the bench with a brace on his left thigh. After the game, Jamal Shead, who finished with 13 points but six turnovers, said he was playing with a hyperextended knee.
“He (Sasser) tried,” said Kelvin Sampson. “I just basically told him, you know, just rest it.”
“We’ve got to see how many healthy bodies we have right now,” Sampson said. “That’s probably our most important thing.”
The Norse and Coogs were tied in the second half before an 11-2 Houston run opened it up. NKU fought back to get within five but eventually ran out of gas. Emanuel Sharp hit two big threes in a four-minute stretch, scoring eight of 10 UH points.
“We live to fight another day,” Sampson said. “That’s what this is about this time of year.”
UH will play ninth-seeded Auburn on Saturday evening, with the Tigers possibly getting a boost from playing in their home state. Sampson again expressed his displeasure with the circumstance.
“Normally, you don’t have to play road games in the NCAA Tournament,” Sampson said on the CBS broadcast afterward. “But it will be like a road environment.”
The Cougars gave away the ball nine times and allowed as many second-chance points in the first half but still led 30-27 at halftime.
UH won the rebounding battle 42-31 but, more importantly, the Norse grabbed 18 offensive boards to the Cougars’ 11.
“They were tougher than we were tonight,” Sampson said. “That’s not easy for me to say. Disappointed in that.”
Jarace Walker led all scorers with 16 points on 6-8 shooting. J’Wan Roberts also logged in his first NCAA Tournament double-double, scoring 11 points with 12 rebounds.