Mandatory Credit: Photo by Butch Dill/AP/Shutterstock (13831045e) Houston guard Jamal Shead brings the ball up during the first half of the team’s first-round college basketball game against Northern Kentucky in the men’s NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala NCAA N Kentucky Houston Basketball, Birmingham, United States – 16 Mar 2023
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It was a night that received a boost from redshirt freshman guard Emanuel Sharp as Houston Cougars basketball left Legacy Arena with a 63-52 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
One-seed Houston was in a slobber knocker against 16-seed Northern Kentucky. It seemed like the Norse had an answer for everything the Cougars threw their way until Sharp stepped in and buried a 3-pointer with 11:35 left in the second half.
Senior guard Marcus Sasser was in the starting lineup, but it was Northern Kentucky that scored first. Houston had a nice start by freshman forward Jarace Walker, but Northern Kentucky trailed by only one at the under 12-minute media timeout in the first half.
The Cougars held the Norse scoreless for nearly four minutes of game time in the first half, but Northern Kentucky trailed by only six points before it scored again.
Houston’s night took an even worse turn when Sasser aggravated the groin injury that had been bothering him since last Saturday in the American Athletic Conference semifinals game against Cincinnati. The All-American guard missed the entire second half with the injury.
UH went with Terrance Arceneaux to start the second half. NKU tied the game at 32, then again at 34, and again at 36. Junior guard Jamal Shead hit a 3-pointer that rolled and touched every part of the rim before dropping in. Houston led 39-36.
UH only led by three when Sharp hit his first 3-pointer. After Houston got a defensive stop, the freshman hit another 3-pointer to make 47-38. Finally, the Cougars had some breathing room.
Northern Kentucky refused to go quietly. UH built as much as a 10-point lead before NKU scored five straight to cut it in half. After a timeout, Houston executed a play to perfection to get Walker an easy slam.
Redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark and Sharp hit a couple of shots to help put the finishing touches. When it was all said and done, Houston walked out of Legacy Arena with the victory.
Make no mistake about it, the Norse left it all on the court. Houston was in a dogfight with Northern Kentucky for the entire game, even before Sasser’s injury. The Norse didn’t shoot the ball lights out, but they hurt the Cougars by playing with a lot of hustle and no fear.
NKU had 18 offensive rebounds and forced 17 turnovers.
For Houston, Walker led the way with 16 points and six rebounds. Junior forward J’Wan Roberts had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Jamal Shead had 13 points and six assists.
Houston returns to Legacy Arena to play 9-seed Auburn on Saturday.