Houston’s Marcus Sasser drew at the half; state in question

Alex ScarboroughESPN staff writerRead for 2 minutes

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, fresh off a closer-than-expected victory over No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky during the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday night, defended the decision to play star guard Marcus Sasser, who recently suffered a groin injury.

Sasser – the American Conference Player of the Year, All-American and one of the top scorers in college basketball – injured his groin less than a week ago during the conference tournament. He started against Northern Kentucky, but played only 14 minutes before aggravating the injury, limping to the bench and being taken out of the game.

Houston struggled to pull away from Northern Kentucky, eventually winning 63-52 to advance in the tournament.

Sasser told reporters after the game that there was “definitely” a chance for him to face No. 9 seed Auburn to play.

Sampson said Sasser, who did not play in Houston’s game on Sunday, did not participate in practice until Wednesday. Sampson said he did not know until Thursday morning that Sasser would be playing and that it would have been fine if Sasser had chosen to sit out.

“I’ve been with Marcus for four years,” he said. “I trust Marcus and I trust our trainer. I leave those decisions to them. Marcus knows his body better than anyone in this room, including me.”

“So it would have been good if Marcus had decided not to play tonight, but he wanted to try because he thought he had enough percentage out of 100 to go.”

Sampson believed his team was deflated when Sasser was sidelined in the second half. Without him — and without a completely healthy roster from top to bottom — Sampson said Houston isn’t the No. 1 seed material.

“We don’t have another Marcus Sasser,” he said. “But everyone has to stay in their lane.”

Jamal Shead, one of four Houston players to average more than 10 points per game this season, overstretched his knee in Thursday night’s victory. He told reporters he expects to play on Saturday.

Auburn will enjoy a favorable crowd just 100 miles from campus, but Sampson downplayed the advantage.

“We need to start looking at how many healthy bodies we have now,” he said. “That’s probably our most important thing.”

Sampson instead turned the focus to Northern Kentucky’s strong play, keeping the game close throughout.

“I don’t coach Northern Kentucky, but I was proud of their team tonight,” he said. “They’ve fought. They’ve been coached well.”

Sampson cited that the Norwegian scored 21 points in rematches.

“They were tougher than us tonight,” he said. “And that’s not easy for me to say.”

Leave a Comment