Men's Basketball Sports

UH rallies in second half to defeat Auburn, advance to fourth straight Sweet 16

Tramon Mark's career-high 26 points helped UH erase a 10-point halftime deficit and defeat Auburn to advance to its fourth straight Sweet 16. | Anh Le/The Cougar

Tramon Mark’s career-high 26 points helped UH erase a 10-point halftime deficit and defeat Auburn to advance to its fourth straight Sweet 16. | Anh Le/The Cougar

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The music came dangerously close to ending for Houston.

A team that had fallen away from its identity over its previous two games looked lost through the first 20 minutes of Saturday night.

On the brink of heartbreak, the UH team that earned the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed finally showed up in the second half, storming back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 9 seed Auburn 81-64 at Legacy Arena to advance to its fourth consecutive Sweet 16.

“The last 20 minutes you saw who we are,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson.

Auburn closed the first half with a 17-4 run, having all the momentum in its favor.

The Cougars came back and outscored the Tigers by 27 in the second half.

What changed at halftime?

UH’s attitude.

“I think the biggest adjustment was in our attitude,” “Sometimes that’s the most important thing.”

Now two wins away from playing in the Final Four in their own backyard, the Cougars will head to Kansas City, Missouri to take on the winner of No. 4 seed Indiana – No. 5 seed Miami, who play on Sunday night, on Friday.

Marcus Sasser, who had been limited due to a groin injury suffered a week ago, looked like his typical self.

The first-team All-American guard announced his return by doing what he does best — draining 3s.

Open for 3 from the right wing 45 seconds into action, Sasser let the ball fly for the first time of the night.


A few minutes later, Sasser found himself with some space at the top of the 3-point line.


“It was real big just to get my confidence going,” Sasser said about his early 3s. “I haven’t really been going live at practice. So just to get that game feeling real early, it was good. I feel like it helped me throughout the game.”

Down 10 at the half, UH’s all-time 3-point leader delivered again, knocking down two more 3s to put the Cougars up 46-45 with 12:55 left in the second half.

Then it was Tramon Mark’s turn to join in on the fun.

Sasser went to the bench with four fouls with 10:53 left in the game.

Jamal Shead joined Sasser on the bench at the 8:22 mark after picking up his fourth foul.

That didn’t matter because UH’s 6-foot-5-inch guard from Dickinson took the game into his own hands, scoring 16 of UH’s next 20 points to build the Cougars’ lead up to a game-high 13 points with under four minutes left.

Auburn didn’t have an answer for Mark’s isolation offense.

“Tramon is probably our best iso player,” Sampson said.

Mark scored 20 of his career-high 26 points in the second half to fuel the comeback.

“I just realized I could get anything I wanted in those isos,” Mark said. “I just continued to go at them and I got what I wanted, got to the free-throw line, got to my midrange.”

Sasser, who returned to the court with 3:37 left in the game, hit his fifth 3 of the night late, putting an end to any of Auburn’s comeback hopes.

UH matched its program record with its 33rd win of the season.

Sasser finished with 22 points.

Freshman forward Jarace Walker stuffed the stat sheet, scoring seven points to go along with 10 rebounds and six blocks.

Along with Mark’s offensive outburst, Sampson said the Cougars’ defense, which he thought was subpar in the first half, was a major difference in the second half.

After allowing 16 made field goals, five from 3-point range, in the first half, UH held Auburn to 4-of-24 from the field in the second half.

“I just said if we would play our defense, we’ll get back in this game,” Sampson said.

After Allen Flanigan’s layup at the 18:02 mark of the second half, the Tigers went over 10 minutes without making a field goal. Wendell Green Jr. finally broke the cold spell with a layup with 7:25 remaining.

Walker and J’Wan Roberts combined for 11 blocks, eight of which came in the second half. As a team, the Cougars blocked 12 shots, a school record in an NCAA Tournament game.

The Tigers also missed 11 second-half free throws. UH, on the other hand, was a perfect 18-for-18 from the charity stripe in the game’s final minutes.

Despite an Auburn-heavy crowd, a “Sweet 16! Sweet 16!” chant from the Houston faithful broke out as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“We didn’t want to go home,” said Sasser. “We wanted this season to go along as long as possible, so we went out there, changed our attitude and came out with the win.”

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