No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball outlasts South Florida Bulls behind a career night from Marcus Sasser

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13710489a) South Florida’s Sam Hines Jr. (20) tries to steal the ball from Houston’s Marcus Sasser (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in South Florida Houston Basketball, United States – 11 Jan 2023

No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball outlasts South Florida Bulls behind a career night from Marcus Sasser

The Houston Cougars basketball team was tested in every way imaginable by South Florida on Wednesday night at the Fertitta Center. In the end, Houston, led by senior guard Marcus Sasser, came out with another victory, this time an 83-77 win over the Bulls.

No. 1 Houston (17-1, 5-0 American Athletic) seemed like it just could not shake USF throughout the game. The Cougars and Bulls were neck-and-neck for much of the first half, and when UH did go on a 10-0 run toward the end of the period, USF (7-10, 0-4 AAC) answered with a 10-0 run of its own before the teams went into the locker rooms for halftime.

The second half started on a positive note for Houston with sophomore big man Ja’Vier Francis getting an empathic rejection on a shot attempt by sophomore forward Sam Hines Jr., which turned into a transition 3-pointer for Sasser that put the Cougars up, 40-36.

It was Francis’ first collegiate career start as he filled in for freshman forward Jarace Walker, who did not play after battling an illness for the past several days.

USF, like it did numerous times on Wednesday night, did not waver. After Houston took a four-point lead, the Bulls responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guard Tyler Harris and senior forward Keyshawn Bryant to retake the lead.

Shead had a nice crossover on Harris that sent the former Memphis Tiger flying toward Houston’s baseline and allowed Shead to rise up and bury a 3-pointer of his own, but Harris went back down the other end of the court and hit a tough 3-point basket. Harris turned to Houston’s student section and let them know about it, as it gave USF the 45-43 edge.

The Bulls used the momentum to slowly build as much as a five-point lead in the second half, which was USF’s largest lead of the night. Key baskets from junior guard Jamal Shead kept the Cougars within striking distance until back-to-back 3-pointers from Sasser ignited an 8-0 run that gave Houston a 56-53 lead it never relinquished.

Sasser, who ended the game with 31 points, which set a new career-high, also tallied four assists, was instrumental in putting the Bulls away. The Dallas native scored 25 of his points in the second half, shooting a phenomenal 5-of-9 from the field, including four makes on 3-pointers.

Houston turned the 8-0 run into a 20-4 stretch that extended its lead to 68-57. While it continued to battle until the end, USF could not overcome that stretch. The Cougars were able to drain the clock, hit timely shots, and make their free throws to put the Bulls away.

Shead ended the game with 20 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark had 13 points and four rebounds. Francis also had six rebounds and six points.

The Houston Cougars basketball team will have an extra few days off until its next matchup. UH will not take the floor again until next Tuesday in New Orleans against the Tulane Green Wave.

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