Houston Cougars hope late-game execution versus Kent State builds ‘confidence and experience’

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13639034x) Houston guard Marcus Sasser, right, hits a basket over Kent State guard Sincere Carry (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Kent State Basketball, Houston, United States – 26 Nov 2022

Houston Cougars hope late-game execution versus Kent State builds ‘confidence and experience’

The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team faced its first challenge in crunchtime against Kent State. Despite the offensive struggles for the Cougars on Saturday, guards Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead were able to deliver late for Houston and seal the win.

“I felt like we needed that,” Sasser said. “Just having this moment early, it just gives us confidence for games later on down the road and just taking care of the ball in the clutch.”

With just 65 seconds left in the game, Golden Flashes guard Malique Jacobs hit a 3-pointer that put Kent State up 44-43. Houston responded with a floater off the glass by Shead that gave the Cougars the lead right back with just 48 seconds left.

Then, Houston turned up the defensive pressure. Kent State guard Sincere Carry, the team’s leading score entering the game, attacked the heart of the Cougars’ defense and was greeted by forward Jarace Walker.

The freshman, who had dealt with his own struggles throughout the contest, skied up and blocked Carry’s shot attempt. Kent State then had to foul Houston to extend the game.

Kent State put Sasser at the line, and he hit both of his free throws to give Houston a three-point lead. The Golden Flashes had one more chance to tie the game. Carry had the ball, got into the paint, and found an open Giovanni Santiago, but he missed the potential game-tying 3-pointer.

The Golden Flashes got the offensive rebound, and the ball found Carry again, but he shot a contested 3-pointer with Shead right in his face and tossed up an air ball. The ball found the hands of Sasser again, who was fouled again, and he hit both free throws again to put Houston up 49-44, which was the final margin of victory.

“I tried to make an impact in one way or the other,” Sasser said. “On the defensive end, I tried to keep the ball away from the hoop, call for help, and forced the opponent to make tough shots. I gave [my teammates] a chance when I tipped the rebounds, and I think they did a great job going at it.”

Despite helping get Houston to the finish line, both Sasser and Shead struggled offensively. Sasser tallied 19 points but did so on 5-of-16 shooting from the field. Shead had six points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. Both guards had four turnovers each. However, they did not allow the struggles to keep them from affecting the game.

“[It] is a great learning curve for us,” Shead said. “Especially for me. I had four turnovers today and three in the first five minutes. I can’t do that again. Just some learning curves.”

As Houston closes out November and enters December, which will feature tough matchups, including games against St. Mary’s, Alabama, and Virginia, Sasser believes Saturday’s outing against Kent State will help the team when it finds itself in a similar situation later in the year.

“I feel like we needed it to build some confidence and experience for games later on down the road. When we have close games at the end, we will know how to close it up,” Sasser said.

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