No. 1 Houston bounced back from a shaky first half against USF Wednesday night, beating the Bulls at home 83-77. Marcus Sasser delivered an explosive and much-needed 25-point second half.
The Cougars took an early lead but never separated themselves from the Bulls due to early turnovers, missed free throws, and a stagnant offense. USF took a 19-17 lead midway through the first half, but Sasser found Ja’Vier Francis in the paint for a two-handed flush to respond.
A few possessions later, Jamal Shead tipped up a USF and then found a streaking Tramon Mark who bounced in a tough layup. Mark was fouled as he fell away from the basket to make it 23-20 at the under-8 timeout.
The teams traded buckets for a few minutes before Shead and Emanuel Sharp ignited a 10-0 run to push the lead to 11 with under three minutes to go. Shead got the run going by skying for a put-back on a Sasser miss, before Sharp hit two straight threes to make the score 37-26.
But the Bulls endured the run and came right back with a 10-0 of their own, largely off of free throws. Houston clung to a 37-36 lead at the half despite shooting 6/11 from the line.
The Cougars seemed poised to start the second half fast after a nasty Francis block led to a three from Sasser in transition. But once again, UH could not capitalize on the momentum. USF caught fire from beyond the arc, hitting three-straight triples to lead 45-43 at the under-16 timeout.
The Bulls increased their lead to five before Marcus Sasser took over. He buried two pull-up threes in quick succession to put the Cougars back on top for good, 54-53. Sasser’s threes injected much-needed energy into the Fertitta Center crowd. His teammates responded, holding the Bulls without a field goal for nearly nine minutes, allowing the Cougars to pull away slowly.
Houston took an 11-point lead with about seven minutes to play thanks to a rare six-point play. With the Cougars in the bonus, Sasser was fouled on the floor, and after the whistle was blown, USF’s Corey Walker attempted to shove him as jogged down the lane and was assessed a deadball technical. As a result, UH was awarded four free throws and possession. Sasser sank three of the foul shots, and on the ensuing possession, Shead nailed a pullup three.
USF brought the game to within two possessions with under a minute left, but Sasser again came up big and completed a four-point play after getting fouled on a stepback three. The Bulls would be forced to foul from then on, and UH held on to improve to 17-1 and 5-0 in conference play.
Sasser finished with a career-high 31 points, going 6-12 from three. USF’s Harris matched Sasser in scoring while Shead finished with 20 points. Francis stepped up defensively in his first-ever career start in relief of an ill Jarace Walker.