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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Men's Basketball

Sasser, Shead’s strong shooting night lifts No. 1 UH past USF


Marcus Sasser career-high 31 points powered UH past USF in its first game back at No. 1 in the AP poll. | Anh Le/The Cougar

Marcus Sasser career-high 31 points powered UH past USF in its first game back at No. 1 in the AP poll. | Anh Le/The Cougar

Whether he can’t miss or is in a freezing slump, the light is always green for Marcus Sasser.

Fortunately for Houston, which returned to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll on Monday, Sasser found his stroke when his team needed him most on Wednesday night.

“My teammates (were) telling me it’s time to step up, trying to get me going, give me confidence,” Sasser said. “When you got good teammates, they really just trust you with the ball and feel like you can change the game.”

With UH trailing South Florida by five with six minutes, 20 seconds into the second half, the preseason All-American took over the game, hitting back-to-back 3’s followed by a scoop layup for his own 8-0 run. 

The Cougars never trailed again.

Sasser hit the dagger with 53.7 seconds remaining, knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc through contact for a four-point play as the nation’s No. 1 team held off the Bulls’ upset bid with a 83-77 victory to improve to 17-1 overall and 5-0 in American Athletic Conference play.

Sasser finished with a career-high 31 points.

Junior point guard Jamal Shead, who entered the game averaging just 7.5 points per game, had a strong scoring night himself putting up a season-best 20 points.

“It made the game a lot easier when (Shead) started being aggressive and scoring,” Sasser said. “It really started getting the whole team going.” 

All three UH starting guards finished in double-digits scoring as Tramon Mark added 13 points.

Freshman forward Jarace Walker, who had scored 20-plus points in each of the Cougars’ last two games, did not play due to illness.

Foul trouble forced Kelvin Sampson to go to his already shorthanded bench early on.

Junior forward J’Wan Roberts picked up his second foul at the 12:42 mark and did not return in the first half. Emanuel Sharp, Jamal Shead and Ja’Vier Francis also had two first-half fouls.

Roberts picked up fouls three and four just minutes into the second half, forcing the 6-foot-7-inch forward to once again take a seat on the bench. This forced Sampson to go to a four-guard lineup, something the UH head coach said he does not expect to have to do again this season.

USF scored 36 first-half points, the most given up by UH this season.

Bulls guard Tyler Harris tied Sasser with 31 points himself.

While the win over USF may fall under the category of ugly to most, Sampson chose to view it in another light.

“It’s a beautiful win, man. That game was a thing of beauty. There is no asterisk besides a win,” Sampson said. “I was proud of our team tonight for hanging in there when we didn’t have a whole lot going for us.” 

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