Men's Basketball Sports

UH rallies against Rutgers to punch ticket to Sweet 16


INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 21: Justin Gorham #4 of the Houston Cougars reacts to a play during the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 21, 2021, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The UH men’s basketball team, two years after its latest NCAA Tournament run, will return to the Sweet Sixteen after rallying late in its second-round matchup against Rutgers on Sunday night in Indianapolis, beating the Scarlet Knights 63-60.

Down two with the final seconds on the clock ticking down, freshman guard Tramon Mark flew through the air, put back a missed shot and got fouled. Mark sunk the free throw to put Houston up one.

A few seconds later sophomore guard Marcus Sasser, who was 1-9 from the field, came up with the biggest play of his young career, coming up with a steal and forcing Rutgers to foul

Sasser drained both free throws to secure the Houston victory, sending Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars to the next round.

“I just told them, ‘Hang in there. We’ve been in this situation before,'” Sampson told a TBS reporter after the game. “End of the game wasn’t X’s and O’s. That was Tramon Mark, a freshman, doing what we do best, and rebounding the ball.”

Senior guard DeJon Jarreau, who exited UH’s first-round game after 41 seconds after suffering a hip pointer, was back in the starting lineup and his presence showed early.

After opening the scoring  with a mid-range jumper, the American Athletic Conference’s 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year helped the Cougars play their typical lockdown defense, holding Rutgers scoreless for almost four minutes to begin the game

Things looked like they might get out of hands early for the Scarlet Knights, but suddenly they flipped a switch. Not only did Rutgers got the offense going but the Scarlet Knights turned up the heat defensively, forcing uncharacteristic UH turnovers and making the Cougars work incredibly hard for every shot they got.

It didn’t help that Sasser, one of the Cougars key scorers, only played six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

Sasser’s absence combined with UH’s cold shooting, which included a 1-10 stretch, allowed Rutgers to jump ahead late in the half and carry a 30-27 lead into the locker room.

Rutgers expanded on its lead early in the second half highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers, the second of which Jarreau reaggravated his hip pointer after hitting the deck hard after trying to get around a screen.

With Jarreau on the bench, the Cougars committed a string of unforced turnovers, but the tides turned when Jarreau returned to the game.

With Jarreau back, despite the guard being in obvious pain, UH clawed its way back into the game before a junior guard Quentin Grimes hit a huge 3-pointer followed by the late heroics of Mark and Sasser.

Houston now has a date with Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, where it will try to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since the legendary Phi Slama Jama-era Cougars did so in 1984.

For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.

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