Mar 18, 2023; Birmingham, AL, USA; Houston Cougars forward Jarace Walker (25) reacts after a play during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Legacy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
For Houston Cougars basketball, the freshmen have been ‘ready for the moment’ of NCAA Tournament
Redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark and senior guard Marcus Sasser led the headlines following the Houston Cougars basketball team’s victory over Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Still, in both NCAA Tournament wins for No. 1-seed Houston, freshmen have made key plays to lift UH past its opponents. After the win against Auburn, junior guard Jamal Shead, forward J’Wan Roberts, and Sasser highlighted the freshmen.
“The freshmen showed up,” Shead said. “They have been waiting for a moment like that this whole year. They did it on the biggest stage. They showed up in a big way.”
During the Cougars’ Round of 64 win against Northern Kentucky, Emanuel Sharp hit back-to-back 3-pointers to create much-needed separation against the Norse. Fellow first-year forward Jarace Walker also had 16 points in the victory.
Against the Tigers, both Sharp and guard Terrance Arceneaux had to step up and play nearly six minutes of game action while both Sasser and Shead sat with four fouls.
Houston held a three-point edge when both Shead and Sasser left the floor in Houston’s second-round NCAA Tournament game, and the advantage grew to 11 by the time both returned to the game.
“We had Emanuel and Terrance in, they was ready for the moment,” Sasser said. “I’m real proud of them. They held their ground. Even got the lead for us and stretched it out for us while we was on the bench.”
Walker contributed against Auburn by hitting a big 3-pointer during Houston’s second-half rally, tracked down 10 rebounds, and blocked six shots.
The Cougars only let the Tigers score six points in the minutes without Sasser or Shead on the floor. All three of Houston’s freshmen played crucial roles in making that happen.
“That just shows the team that we got,” Roberts said. “Even though our two best players were out, we still got other weapons on the bench. As much as T-Mark was cooking on the offensive end, on the defensive end, we played collectively as a team.”
For the freshmen, particularly Arceneaux and Sharp, who come off the bench for Houston, their mentality is not to play outside of themselves, but to always be ready to step in when called upon.
“Just going out there and just competing,” said Arceneaux on his mentality. “That is all I can do. Give it everything I got for my team because you know it is win or go home so just going out there and giving everything I got.”