Marcus Sasser helps lift Houston Cougars past South Florida in UH’s ‘beautiful win’

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13710493o) Houston’s Marcus Sasser (0) celebrates with Jamal Shead (1) after making a basket while being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the South Florida, in Houston. Houston won 83-77 South Florida Basketball, Houston, United States – 11 Jan 2023

Marcus Sasser helps lift Houston Cougars past South Florida in UH’s ‘beautiful win’

With 13:40 left in the second half, the Houston Cougars basketball team found itself down five to a scrappy and pesky South Florida team that threw the kitchen sink, and just about the entire kitchen counter, at UH on Wednesday night inside Fertitta Center.

After a missed free throw from USF senior forward Keyshawn Bryant, Houston sophomore guard Tramon Mark got the rebound, and the Cougars (17-1, 5-0 American Athletic) pushed the ball up the court. The ball found the hands of senior guard Marcus Sasser, who stepped back and released a long-range shot that found the bottom of the net. It was time for him to make plays in what eventually turned into an 83-77 win over USF.

“Really it was just my teammates telling me it’s time to step up,” Sasser told reporters after the game. “[They were] trying to get me going, get me confidence, and just being a senior on the team, being a leader, I have kind of done seen it all. I’ve seen the momentum that they had.”

Sasser’s 3-pointer, which cut USF’s lead to just two, was the start of an 8-0 run that included another 3-point basket from Sasser. This time, it was a pull-up transition 3-pointer after a USF (7-10, 0-4 AAC) turnover.

After another turnover by the Bulls, Sasser once again got the ball in his hands and scored a layup. Just like that, Houston was up 56-53 on a solo Sasser run. The guard ended the game with a career-high 31 points.

“When you have good teammates that really just trust you with the ball, and feel like you can change the game, it don’t do anything but give you confidence,” Sasser said.

The Cougars went on to outscore the Bulls 20-4 after trailing 53-48 to build back up an 11-point lead, which was the largest margin they led against the Bulls by all night long. While Sasser started the initial run, junior guard Jamal Shead was also instrumental in Houston’s victory over South Florida, particularly from an offensive perspective.

Shead, who ended the game with 20 points, six rebounds, and three assists, hit several big shots throughout the second half that kept Houston within striking distance prior to going on its big run. The Manor native also hit a 3-pointer that gave UH its 68-57 lead with less than seven minutes in the second half.

“He is an all-around guard really,” Sasser said. “It [makes] the game a lot easier when he starts being aggressive and scoring and it really starts getting the whole team going really.”

Still, not everything went well for Shead. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson pointed out his defensive struggles against the Bulls, especially when guarding senior guard Tyler Harris, who also ended the night with a career-high 31 points.

“He was kicking Jamal’s butt, that was the switching [in reference to putting Sasser on Harris later in the game],” Sampson said. “Jamal hasn’t guarded very well lately. He’s got to get his swagger back, get his mojo back. He’s got to get back to getting a little mud in his blood. Marcus has got plenty of mud in his blood.”

USF tried to answer with one more run after falling behind 11 points. The Bulls had managed to have a response for every punch the Cougars threw at them earlier in the game, but toward the end of the second half, it was Houston that sealed it by going to Mark.

He hit two jumpers, his signature pull-up, and then a turnaround shot, as Houston kept its lead at 11 and also chewed up valuable time on the clock.

Houston struggled with foul trouble throughout the night. The Cougars had six players with three or more fouls. Junior forward J’Wan Roberts played only 18 minutes because of foul trouble. Shead also had four fouls.

The already short-handed Cougars, who were without freshman forward Jarace Walker due to an illness he’s been battling since before the Cincinnati game, without guard Ramon Walker, who has taken a leave of absence from the program, and without big man Darius Bowser, who had to leave the program due to a death in his family, had to run a four-guard lineup during stretches against USF.

Wednesday’s win, while it could be viewed as an ugly win in the eyes of some, is a work of art for Sampson.

“It’s a beautiful win man,” Sampson stated. “That game was a thing of beauty. For the uneducated and misinformed, they have a way of describing wins. There is no asterisk beside a win. They are wins. Beautiful wins. I was proud of our team tonight for hanging in there on a night when we didn’t have a whole lot going for us.”

The Cougars will now have six days off until they take the court again on Tuesday at Tulane. Houston will take this time to rest up ahead of the matchup with the Green Wave, Sampson said.

“Hopefully, we can get some bodies back,” Sampson said. “Heal the wounded, feed the sick, do all that stuff and move on to the next one.”

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