Sweet comeback! Houston erases Auburn with second-half blitz


How sweet it is!

The Houston Cougars jumped on Tramon Mark’s back all the way to the Sweet 16 Saturday night, beating nine-seed Auburn 81-64 in Birmingham. Mark’s 20 second-half points drove a 50-point UH explosion. The Tigers made only four field goals after halftime on 4/24 shooting.

Tramon Mark took over when Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead went to the bench due to foul trouble. He scored 16 of 20 Cougar points in a critical six-minute stretch and finished with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds.

“We knew exactly what we were going to do,” said Kelvin Sampson, “and Tramon was ready for it because he’s a really good player.”

“I just realized that I could get anything I want in those isos,” Mark said, ” so I just continued to go.”

After halftime, UH came out on a furious mission, erasing a 10-point deficit and taking the lead. Auburn was stifled entirely on offense as Jarace Walker and J’Wan Roberts swatted away anything that entered the paint. Auburn scored 22 points in the paint in the first half but only eight after the break. Walker and Roberts had four blocks in the half each, and Walker broke the single-game UH NCAA Tournament record with six blocks.

J’Wan Roberts also became #2 in blocks in Houston NCAA single-game history with five. Blocks became an official NCAA stat in 1985 after Elvin Hayes and Akeem Olajuwon had finished their college careers.

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Sampson saw the Cougars getting a stop in the first possession out of the gate as the turning point to getting UH back on track.

“We needed to set the tone with a stop,” Sampson said. “And the play the way we’ve played all year.”

Roberts fouled out late in the game but still put in a Herculean effort. The forward gobbled ten rebounds and swatted five shots with a plus-minus of +16. Free throws killed the Tigers and gave life to the Cougars. The teams combined for 65 attempts: Auburn missed 17 of its 36 while the Cougars were a perfect 18-18 in the second half.

Houston struggled to keep Auburn out of the paint early on but still took the lead, thanks to nine early points from Marcus Sasser. But the Cougars’ offense began to falter while the Tigers went on a 17-4 run to take a 41-31 lead at halftime. Auburn went 16-29 from the floor in the first 20 minutes.

After halftime, Kelvin Sampson said that Sasser was just “60%” and couldn’t move, but the All-American still had a strong 22-point showing on 7-of-14 shooting for the game.

“It was real big just to get my confidence going,” Sasser said. “I haven’t really been going live in practice… just to get that game feeling, you know, it was good.”

The Cougars will play Miami on Friday, March 24, at 6:15 p.m. in the Sweet 16. Houston/Auburn Box Score

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