Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13807295r) Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) goes to the basket past East Carolina guard Jaden Walker (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, in Fort Worth, Texas AAC East Carolina Houston Basketball, Fort Worth, United States – 10 Mar 2023
Houston Cougars basketball ‘out of character’ in win over East Carolina, looking to turn page
FORT WORTH — The Houston Cougars basketball team won and advanced. It is what March is all about.
For UH, however, its 60-46 victory over East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals came with a lot of disappointment.
It was not because of the outcome but because of the team’s own standard. Outside of senior guard Marcus Sasser, the Cougars couldn’t buy a basket, but more importantly, it struggled to crash the offensive glass and with other effort plays.
“I thought we were kind of out of character today on a lot of things,” Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We’ll get it back, I think, but I thought we were out of character on a lot of things.”
As a team, Houston shot 16-of-57 from the field. Sasser went 9-of-15 from the field as he scored a game-high 30 points in the win. He also had five rebounds.
Junior guard Jamal was the only other UH player besides Sasser that hit more than one field goal against East Carolina. He had 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting on Friday.
“The shooting percentage isn’t what bothered me,” Sampson said. “We missed 41 shots and got [seven] offensive rebounds … That is what disappointed me.”
For Sampson, the team’s goal in every game is to rebound at least 50% of its misses. Against the Pirates, the Cougars came away with just 17.07% of its misses.
“We didn’t rebound when we were supposed to rebound,” Sasser told reporters outside of the team’s locker room at Dickies Arena on Friday. “We won, so we get another chance tomorrow … [ECU] put up a hard fight, so I give them a lot of respect. They came out and played basically to our culture.”
Heading into halftime, Houston and East Carolina were locked in a tough battle. The Cougars only held a 23-21 lead at the break. To begin the second half, UH turned up the defensive heat and began attacking the Pirates in transition.
It led to a 3-pointer by Sasser to make it 29-21 early in the second period, which forced an early timeout by ECU. Houston’s defense, in addition to Sasser’s offense, was a big reason it came away with the win against the Pirates.
The Cougars stole the ball 10 times, blocked seven shots, and forced 17 ECU turnovers. UH scored 19 points off of turnovers.
“We really just got out in transition,” Sasser said. “We got clean defensive rebounds [in the] second half and just got open shots in transition. Then just really getting downhill, being more aggressive and teammates just doing a good job finding me when I was wide open [was the key to the second half turnaround].”
Houston’s next challenge will be against Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon. The Bearcats ran through Temple, 84-54, to advance to the conference semifinals.
For the Cougars, their biggest focal point will be on getting back to their culture and offensive rebounding, Shead said. East Carolina offered Houston a wake-up call that everyone is gunning for the top team in the conference, Sasser stated.
“Really got to lock in, you know, no matter what the name is at the front of their jerseys, they are all coming to beat us,” Sasser said. “It is win or go home. They don’t want to go home. We don’t want to go home.”