Men's Basketball Sports

‘We needed this game’: UH hoping UCF win can help propel season

UH men's basketball guard Marcus Sasser during a regular season game against UConn at Fertitta Center. | Mikol Kindle Jr./The Cougar

UH men’s basketball guard Marcus Sasser during a regular season game against UConn at Fertitta Center. | Mikol Kindle Jr./The Cougar

The Houston men’s basketball team, led by its pair of sophomore guards Caleb Mills and Marcus Sasser, grinded out a win on the road against UCF on Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars (7-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) found themselves in an early 10-point deficit in the first half before a rally gave them the advantage in what became a back in forth battle for much of the contest against the Knights (3-2, 1-1 AAC).

“I think we needed this game,” Sasser told reporters on a Zoom conference call. “This hard game on the road. I feel like it is going to give us a lot of confidence during the season. We figured out who is tough and figured out that road games aren’t easy to win.”

The Knights gave the Cougars a run for their money on Saturday, keeping pace with the sixth-ranked team in the country for much of the afternoon until the latter end of the second half.

UCF managed to control the boards, a feat that is rare against UH, which is known for its rebounding prowess.

“We got to get better at that,” UH men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We got to fix that.”

The Knights outrebounded the Cougars 38-28 in the game, and UCF garnered 11 offensive boards, which led to eight second-chance points.

“We just came out with the wrong mindset,” Mills said. “I had that feeling in warmups. … Next game we’re going to be on top of it. We’re going to go into practice knowing what happened in this game. It is a lesson for us even though we won.”

Even though the Cougars lost the rebounding battle, UH did more good than bad, which is what led to its seventh straight win to open season.

Sasser, who finished with 19 points and five rebounds in the win, had his best performance since UH’s game against Texas Tech.

While the Red Oak native played in Tuesday’s game against Temple, he was limited in his contribution in that contest. On Saturday, Sasser said he felt closer to 100 percent against the Knights after getting a chance to get his wind back versus the Owls.

The biggest challenge he has had to face since his layoff, Sasser said, has been regaining confidence in his ankle.

“The rehab was real good, but just coming back from it, I was kind of scared, in the Temple game too, to go full speed,” Sasser said. “I think coach did a good job in practice of pacing me and not to just come in full speed.”

In addition to Sasser’s performance, Mills added 12 points off the bench in his first game back in nearly a month. A contested layup by the guard in the final 90 seconds of the game, which also resulted in a foul from UCF junior forward Sean Mobley, helped seal the win for the Cougars.

“The game will usually tell you what to do as a coach and what the game was telling me was to keep the ball in Caleb’s hands,” Sampson said.

While Mills reached his career average in points, the guard is not satisfied with his performance and feels like he and the team can improve going forward.

“I’m still getting this rust off,” Mills said. “I don’t think I played that well.”

As the Cougars turn the page to Tuesday for their next game against Tulsa, they are encouraged with how they were able to grind out the win in Orlando, Florida.

Down the stretch, UH ended the game with a four-guard lineup that included Mills, Sasser and junior Quentin Grimes and senior DeJon Jarreau along with senior Brison Gresham.

“We got a lot of guards that can make plays,” Sampson said. “That is why I am encouraged about this team. Our toughness that second half was outstanding.”

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