Marcus Sasser scored 24 of his 30 points in the second half to lift No. 1 Houston to a 60-46 win over East Carolina on Friday afternoon in a quarterfinal game of the American Athletic Conference tournament at Fort Worth, Texas.
The No. 1-seed Cougars (30-2) move on to play either Temple or Cincinnati in the tournament semifinals on Saturday. Houston has won the last two AAC titles; no team has ever won the AAC tournament over three consecutive seasons.
Sasser, the Cougars’ All-American and the AAC’s player of the year, carried Houston after halftime, helping expand a 23-21 lead at the break to 53-40 with 3:08 to play.
Jamal Shead added 12 points for the Cougars, who have won 12 straight games, with J’Wan Roberts grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds. Houston won even though it shot just 28.1 percent from the floor, made just one of its final nine shots and gave up 24 points in the paint.
Ezra Ausar led the Pirates (16-17) with 18 points and 19 rebounds. East Carolina shot 31.4 percent and turned over the ball 17 times that led to 19 points for Houston.
East Carolina was in charge early, forging a 9-5 lead after Jaden Walker’s layup just under four minutes into the game. The Cougars rallied to score the next six points and pull ahead at 11-9 before a pair of free throws from Ausar tied the game at 11-11.
There were two more ties and three more lead changes over the final 13:28 of the half before a 3-pointer by Terrance Arceneaux with 1:05 remaining gave Houston its 23-21 edge at the break.
Ausar led all players with 12 points before halftime while Shead paced the Cougars with eight points. Both teams struggled from the floor in the first half, with the Pirates outshooting Houston 34.8 percent to 25.8 percent despite making just one of their eight 3-point attempts.
The Cougars pushed their lead to 29-21 after Sasser’s 3-pointer with 17:54 to play and produced a double-digit advantage for the first time at 36-26 when Sasser grabbed a rebound and ran the floor for a roaring dunk with 14:11 remaining. The lead was only briefly under double digits from there.
–Field Level Media