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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Men's Basketball

No. 1 UH routs Tulane, clinches share of AAC regular-season title

No. 1 UH cruised to a 30-point win over Tulane on Wednesday to clinch a share of the 2023 AAC regular-season title. | Anh Le/The Cougar

No. 1 UH cruised to a 30-point win over Tulane on Wednesday to clinch a share of the 2023 AAC regular-season title. | Anh Le/The Cougar

The American Athletic Conference’s reigning champs’ trophy case got a little bit bigger on Wednesday night as top-ranked Houston pounded Tulane 89-59 to clinch at minimum a share of the league’s regular-season title, the Cougars’ fourth in the last five years.

“We’ve been winning around here for a long time,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson.

Back at No. 1 in the AP poll for the third time this season, UH (26-2, 14-1 AAC) brought the fireworks for a record Fertitta Center crowd of 7,763, breaking the previous attendance high set just three days before.

Minutes after UH used a 7-0 run to gain some separation midway through the first half, the Cougars went into blitzkrieg mode.

What started with a J’Wan Roberts putback layup and ended in a Tramon Mark 3-pointer, with a Jamal Shead steal and layup sandwiched in between, UH doubled its lead in the span of 51 seconds.

All Tulane head coach Ron Hunter could do was hang his head and call a timeout.

Coming off a career-high 20-point double-double against Memphis, Roberts one-upped his performance from Sunday, setting a new high with 26 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field.

“He just draws so much attention from the defense (that) it just makes every other player on the floor game’s easier,” said Marcus Sasser when asked about Roberts’ improvement offensively.

Sasser led UH with 22 points while also dishing out six assists, grabbing five rebounds and coming away with four steals.

After the game, Sampson made his case for Sasser, who leads the Cougars in scoring and steals and is second on the team in assists, to be the AAC’s player of the year. Sampson’s main argument — no one impacts winning in more ways than the UH senior guard.

“The player of the year should be the best two-way player,” Sampson said. “I don’t think there’s a better two-way player in this conference than Marcus Sasser.”

Yet again, UH found itself with a double-digit lead in the second half. Unlike UH’s previous two games where it allowed SMU and Memphis to claw back from a large deficit in the second half, the Cougars smelt blood and pounced on the Green Wave.

A Mark steal leading to a transition layup by Shead sparked a 13-3 UH run to open the second half, putting any chances of a Tulane comeback to bed.

The win marked UH’s eighth straight and 17th in its last 18 games. The Cougars can win the conference title outright with either a Memphis loss to Wichita State on Thursday or by beating East Carolina on Saturday night.

UH owned the offensive glass, pulling down seven offensive boards in the game’s first ten minutes. Tulane had four total rebounds to this point.

Freshman Jarace Walker pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds, five on the offensive glass, to go along with nine points.

“I’ve been on Jarace hard the last couple of days,” Sampson said. “The thing about Jarace (is) he usually responds. I thought he played hard tonight.”

The Cougars finished with 15 second-chance points off of 18 offensive boards.

The Cougars spread the wealth offensively, with 71 percent of their made field goals coming off assists.

“We had 22 assists tonight on 31 made baskets. That’s part of our identity, things that we emphasize,” Sampson said. “You usually achieve what you emphasize.”

Mark finished with 13 points and Shead had 10 points.

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