Marcus Sasser scores 30 as No. 1 UH tops ECU in AAC Tournament quarterfinals
FORT WORTH — Needing to get the offense going after shooting just 25.8 percent in the first half, Houston turned to the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year.
As he has done countless times before, Marcus Sasser delivered again on Friday afternoon, scoring 24 second-half points to power No. 1 Houston past East Carolina 60-46 in the AAC Tournament quarterfinals at Dickies Arena.
“Marcus stepped up in a big way tonight,” said UH point guard Jamal Shead said. “We’re going to follow him until the wheels fall off.”
UH, now 10-0 at Dickies Arena, will play No. 4 seed Cincinnati in the first semifinal game on Saturday afternoon.
While the Cougars likely have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament locked up, head coach Kelvin Sampson was not pleased with his team’s performance against the Pirates.
“Going forward, we are just going to have to play better,” Sampson said. “I felt like we were out of character today in a lot of things.”
The shots weren’t falling early for the Cougars as UH scored a season-low 23 first-half points.
The Cougars had a 6-minute, 29-second stretch in the first half where they missed nine straight field goals. Shead finally broke the cold spell with a layup plus the foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play.
“Shooting 28 percent, that’s hard to do,” Sampson said.
Despite the poor shooting, Sampson was more concerned with his team’s lack of activity on the offensive glass.
The Cougars, who entered Friday averaging nearly 13 offensive boards a game, only pulled down seven of their 41 misses against the Pirates.
“That’s was what disappointed me,” Sampson said.
Shead echoed his head coach after the game.
“Like coach said, we need to get back to our culture and get back to offensive rebounding,” Shead said.
A two-point halftime lead quickly turned into a 14-point advantage eight minutes into the second half as Sasser began to find his groove.
“(I) just got open shots in transition and just really getting downhill, getting more aggressive,” Sasser said when asked about his second-half scoring outburst. “My teammates did a good job finding me when I was wide open.”
Sasser scored a game-high 30 points, his seventh 20-plus point performance in UH’s last eight games, on 9-of-15 shooting from the field. Sasser finished a point shy of his career-high 31 points he scored against South Florida in January.
“One you’ll notice (is Sasser) never took a bad shot,” said UH point guard Jamal Shead. “Everything was just open for him. He took what the game gave him and that’s just a confidence booster for us going forward.”
UH (30-2) joined College of Charleston, Oral Roberts and Florida Atlantic as the only teams in the country with 30-plus wins. This is the sixth time in program history UH reached the 30-win mark.
Shead scored 12 points, the only other Cougar to finish in double figures.
J’Wan Roberts pulled down 12 rebounds.
While the Cougars lived to fight another day, Sampson said UH must elevate its performance if it is to win its third straight AAC Tournament title.
“Hopefully we can come out and play better,” Sampson said.