No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball sinks East Carolina, 76-57, clinches outright AAC regular season championship

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ben McKeown/AP/Shutterstock (13783440c) Houston’s Marcus Sasser (0) is defended by East Carolina’s RJ Felton during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Greenville, N.C Houston E Carolina Basketball, Greenville, United States – 25 Feb 2023

No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball sinks East Carolina, 76-57, clinches outright AAC regular season championship

GREENVILLE, N.C. — No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball wrecked East Carolina on Saturday night inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

Behind a sensational defensive performance, UH suffocated ECU to win, 76-57, clinching an outright American Athletic regular season championship in the process.

If the Pirates’ moniker was literal, the Cougars (27-2, 15-1 AAC) would have made ECU walk the plank with how dominating their performance was.

Houston forced East Carolina to go 11:22 of game action, spanning most of the first half and into the second half, without making a field goal. ECU sophomore forward Brandon Johnson hit a jumper with 10:56 left in the first half, and it did not make another field goal until the 19:34 mark in the second half when Johnson hit a 3-pointer.

The Cougars played with pace on Saturday. They deflected numerous passes, played the passing lanes well, got back in transition, were first to the floor on loose balls, and did just about everything else well on defense.

Freshman guard Emanuel Sharp got a block stopping a fast break during ECU’s 11:22 field goal drought, junior point guard Jamal Shead got steals, and senior guard Marcus Sasser, who had an injury scare during the game, seemed to be sprinting all over the court in transition opportunities for the Cougars.

Sasser rolled his ankle on a screen set by Johnson at the 13:48 mark in the first half. The injury put the guard in visible pain as head coach Kelvin Sampson and UH’s associate athletic director for sports medicine John Houston checked on him.

Both Houston and Alan Bishop, the team’s director of sports performance, helped carry Sasser into the locker room, where he had his ankle retaped and returned to the game with 11:13 left in the first half.

Once Sasser returned, the Cougars continued to build their lead. Junior forward J’Wan Roberts had a put-back score, Sasser hit a jumper in the paint, redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark hit a 3-pointer, and just like that, Houston built a 24-10 cushion.

Houston’s biggest issue throughout the first half was foul trouble. The Cougars committed multiple fouls on ECU, which allowed the Pirates to score 11 first-half points from the charity stripe.

The Cougars built as much as a 23-point lead in the second half, holding a 48-25 edge over the Pirates. Houston broke open the game with a 12-3 run coming out of halftime that saw Roberts score three baskets around the paint, freshman forward Jarace Walker hit a 3-pointer, and Mark have a driving layup.

From that point on, the Pirates cut the Cougars’ lead to 16 points at one point, but UH was just too much for ECU. Even when Houston began to show leakage in its defense toward the middle-to-latter portion of the second half, the Cougars kept scoring and hurting the Pirates on the boards.

Houston ended the game with 17 offensive rebounds, seven of which came from Roberts. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 total rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Sasser had 22 points. Mark had 20 points and nine rebounds.

The Houston Cougars basketball team will return to action on Thursday night for its final home game of the season against Wichita State. UH will honor its seniors prior to the game, which is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff. It will air on ESPN2 and can also be heard on KPRC 950 AM radio.

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