March 30, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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Houston’s Marcus Sasser fell in half. situation in question

Alex ScarboroughESPN staff writer2 minutes to read

Birmingham, Ala. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who secured a closer-than-expected win over No. 16 northern Kentucky during the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night, defended the decision to play superstar Marcus Sasser, who recently suffered a hip injury.

Sasser — American Conference Player of the Year, and one of the leading scorers in college basketball — injured his groin during the conference tournament less than a week ago. He started against Northern Kentucky but played only 14 minutes before the injury aggravated, limped off the bench and was pulled from the game.

Houston struggled to pull away from Northern Kentucky and eventually held on to win 63-52 to advance in the championship.

Sasser told reporters after the game that there was “definitely” a chance to play against No. 9-ranked Auburn on Saturday.

Sasser, who did not play in the Houston game on Sunday, did not participate in practice until Wednesday, Sampson said. Sampson said he did not know Sasser would be playing until Thursday morning and that he 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 coach. I leave those decisions up to them. Marcus knows his body better than anyone in this room, including me.

“So I would have been fine if Marcus had decided not to play tonight, but he wanted to give it a go because he thought he was in a high enough percentage out of the 100 he could go.”

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Sampson thought his team had lost when Sasser missed out in the second half. Without him — and without a wholesome top-to-bottom slate — Sampson said Houston isn’t number one seed material.

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

Jamal Shedd, one of four Houston players to average more than 10 points per game this season, squandered his knee excessively in Thursday night’s win. He told reporters he expected to play on Saturday.

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

“We have to go see how many healthy bodies we have now,” he said. “Maybe this is the most important thing for us.”

Instead, Sampson shifted the focus to Northern Kentucky’s solid play, which kept the game close throughout.

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

Sampson noted that the Norse scored 21 points in second chance chances.

“They were tougher than we were tonight,” he said. “This is not easy for me to say.”