Houston Cougars basketball overcomes slow start to get past East Carolina in AAC Tournament opener

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13807295a) Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) steals the ball from East Carolina guard Jaden Walker 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 overcomes slow start to get past East Carolina in AAC Tournament opener

FORT WORTH — It was a hard-fought opening game in the American Athletic Conference tournament for Houston Cougars basketball on Friday afternoon.

East Carolina (16-17) was scrappy and muddied the waters in No. 1 Houston’s quarterfinals matchup, but ultimately, the top-seeded Cougars (30-2) responded to the challenge and came out with the 60-46 victory.

Houston’s intensity picked up in the second half. After a first half that consisted of misses, misses, and more misses from both teams, the second period was a flip of the switch for UH.

The Cougars began their first defensive possession of the second half by hounding the Pirates. Assistant coach Kellen Sampson was on the floor in front of UH’s bench pounding on the hardwood as he encouraged the team to lock down on defense.

Houston responded by forcing a stop. After a few free throws, a 6-0 run to begin the second half was capped off by a 3-pointer on a semi-transition opportunity from senior guard Marcus Sasser. The run gave Houston an eight-point advantage and created a cushion UH would only expand on.

The Cougars forced the Pirates to commit 17 turnovers. ECU shot just 16-of-51 from the field. Houston also managed to get seven blocks and 10 steals. Redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark had three steals, junior guard Jamal Shead had two steals, and Sasser had two as well.

UH’s largest lead of the game was 15 points.

Offensively, UH managed to find more success in the second half. Houston shot only 8-of-31 from the field in the opening half. Additionally, the Cougars managed to get only two offensive rebounds on their 23 misses in the first half, which was a factor in why they only scored 23 points in the first half.

UH head coach Kelvin Sampson has said the goal for his team in every game is to garner at least half of their misses on the offensive glass.

Sasser caught fire in the second half. He scored 24 of his 30 points in the second stanza of the game. As a team, Houston found a lot of success creating and setting up each other for baskets. The Cougars assisted on 13 of their 16 total field goals for the game. UH went 20-of-26 from the free-throw line.

Houston will now wait and see to know who it will play next in the AAC Tournament semifinals.

The Houston Cougars basketball team will play the winner of Temple and Cincinnati on Saturday at 2 p.m. from Dickies Arena. It will air on ESPN2, and the radio call will be on KPRC 950 AM in Houston.

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