With All-American Marcus Sasser watching from the bench, top-seeded Houston shook off Northern Kentucky for a 63-52 victory to open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night time.
Chants of “NKU!” and “Overrated!” crammed Legacy Arena because the Sixteenth-seeded Norse trailed by solely three at halftime and made it 36-all with beneath 16 minutes to go towards the Cougars (32-3).
But Houston pulled away behind 16 factors from Jarace Walker, advancing to face ninth-seeded Auburn on Saturday.
Now, all eyes flip to Sasser, the group’s high scorer and its first member of The Associated Press All-America first group since 1984.
After taking place final weekend with a groin harm within the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Sasser was a game-time choice for the beginning of the NCAA Midwest Region.
He obtained the beginning and regarded simply positive when he knocked down an early 3-pointer. But Sasser did not do a lot else, ending with 5 factors on 2-of-5 capturing in slightly below 14 minutes of taking part in time.
When the second half started, Sasser wasn’t on the courtroom. The faculty introduced he had aggravated his groin drawback, forcing him to look at the remainder of the sport from the bench.
The Cougars did not want him on this night time. The Norse’s upset bid went down in a hail of clankers, the Horizon League champions capturing simply 27.5% from the sector (19 of 69) — together with a horrendous 5 of 34 from 3-point vary — to break any likelihood of changing into the following UMBC.
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The Retrievers stay the one Sixteenth seed in NCAA historical past to knock off a No. 1 seed, surprising Virginia in 2018.
The Cougars prevented that destiny however issues determine to get a lot more durable within the subsequent one, particularly if Sasser cannot go.
Auburn knocked off No. 8 seed Iowa 83-75 and can have one other de facto residence recreation within the second spherical, taking part in only a two-hour drive from its campus.
The Cougars struggled offensively towards Northern Kentucky’s matchup zone, which was in contrast to any protection they’d seen this season. Houston led simply 30-27 at halftime and completed effectively beneath its 75-point common coming into the sport.
Sam Vinson scored 15 factors to steer Northern Kentucky (22-13).
Northern Kentucky: The Norse have but to win three NCAA Tournament appearances, shedding as a 14th, fifteenth and now Sixteenth seed.
Houston: The Cougars hardly regarded like a nationwide championship contender, and Sasser’s well being makes a title run look much more tenuous.
The Cougars shall be taking part in Auburn for the primary time since Dec. 8, 1982, when Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” powerhouse that includes Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler prevailed 77-65 towards the Charles Barkley-led Tigers. Overall, the groups have met simply seven occasions, with the Cougars profitable six. Auburn’s lone victory within the sequence got here in 1962.
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