Inside UH guard Tramon Mark’s monster second half against Auburn
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Just call him T-March.
As a freshman, Tramon Mark’s late-game heroics against Rutgers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament kept Houston’s season alive.
That season ended in UH’s first trip back to Final Four in 37 years.
On Saturday night, Mark again provided the March magic when his team needed it most against Auburn.
With Marcus Sasser on the bench with four fouls midway through the second half, the Cougars didn’t panic.
“Sometimes you switch channels,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson. “We were on Channel 32, and we had to switch to 38, and then we had to switch to 48.”
Sampson thought back to March 4, 2000.
Down by 13 points to Oklahoma State in the second half of the final game at the old Gallagher-Iba Arena, Sampson, then head coach at Oklahoma, knew he needed to try something new.
The new plan — put the ball in the hands of Nolan Johnson, the Sooners best one-on-one player, and give him space to work.
It worked out.
Johnson powered a 23-6 Oklahoma run with 12 points as the Sooners erased the deficit and won the game 59-56.
“To win that game we just put the ball in our best one-on-one player’s hands,” Sampson said. “We put everybody (else) on the baseline and let (Johnson) go.”
Though now the head coach of a different team, Sampson put the same plan into action on Saturday night at Legacy Arena.
“That’s always been something that’s been in my back pocket,” Sampson said.
Sampson put the ball in Tramon Mark’s hands and let the 6-foot-5-inch guard go to work.
Like Johnson did 23 years ago, Mark, who Sampson called UH’s best isolation player, delivered for the Cougars.
Down 49-46 midway through the second half, Mark hit a midrange jumper.
UH’s next trip down the court, Mark hit another jumper to tie the game at 50.
Jamal Shead then joined Sasser on the bench after picking up his fourth foul.
“I’m scared as hell,” Shead said when asked how he felt when he joined Sasser on the bench.
Mark, however, remained cool and collected.
Quickly, Shead’s nerves were calmed as nobody on Auburn could stop No. 12 in white.
“T-Mark just took over the game,” Shead said.
Mark kept rolling, scoring 10 of the Cougars’ next 12 points by either getting to his spot and knocking down the shot or drawing a foul and cashing in from the free-throw line.
“In those iso situations, I know I can get really anything I want,” Mark said. “If I want to get to the basket, get to the dribble pull-up, stepback, it’s just whatever the defender gives me. If I get him going one way, I can go the other way. I’m very confident in those situations.”
What was a four-point lead grew into a 13-point advantage — all while Sasser and Shead were still on the bench.
“He knew what time it was when me and Jamal went down,” Sasser said. “My reaction was it’s time for him to go. And he did what he had to do.”
Mark scored 20 of his career-high 26 points in the second half, which included going a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line.
“I knew what I had to do in those moments,” Mark said. “I believed in myself. I trusted in myself. Coach did too.”
Just as he did two years ago, Mark willed the Cougars to victory for the program’s fourth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
“T-Mark saved the day,” Shead said.