The Washington Post

Ailing Cougars survive an early test


With all-american Marcus Strasser watching from the bench, top-seeded Houston shook off Northern Kentucky for a 63-52 victory to open the NCAA tournament on Thursday night in Birmingham, Ala.

The 16th-seeded Norse (22-13) trailed by only three points at halftime and made it 36-all with under 16 minutes to go against the Cougars (32-3).

But Houston pulled away behind 16 points from Jarace Walker, advancing to face ninth-seeded Auburn on Saturday.

Now all eyes turn to Sasser, the team’s top scorer and its first member of the Associated Press all-america first team since 1984.

After going down last weekend with a groin injury in the American Athletic Conference tournament, Sasser was a game-time decision for Thursday.

He got the start and looked just fine when he made an early threepoint­er. But Sasser did not do much else, finishing with five points on 2-for-5 shooting in just under 14 minutes of playing time.

The school announced he had aggravated his groin problem, forcing him to watch most of the game from the bench.

The Cougars did not need him as the Norse’s upset bid went down in a hail of clankers, the Horizon League champions shooting just 27.5 percent from the field (19 of 69) — including 5 for 34 from three-point range.

The Cougars struggled offensivel­y against Northern Kentucky’s matchup zone. Houston led just 30-27 at halftime and finished well under its 75-point average coming into the game.

LLTEXAS 81, COLGATE 61: Sir’jabari Rice scored 23 points, and the second-seeded Longhorns shut down the Raiders in Des Moines.

Rice made five of his seven three-pointers in the first half, helping Texas get off to a fast start. Marcus Carr finished with 17 points, and Dylan Disu had 17 points and nine rebounds.

Texas (27-8) shot 13 for 23 from three-point range while advancing to a second-round matchup Saturday against Penn State, which beat Texas A&M, 76-59, in the late game in Des Moines.

In another inspired performanc­e under interim coach Rodney Terry, Rice and the Longhorns picked the perfect time to get hot on the perimeter against the nation’s leading outside shooting team. They matched their season best for three-pointers made.

The Raiders (26-9) went just 3 for 15 from deep against a relentless and long-armed Longhorns defense. Colgate shot better than 40 percent before the tournament. The leading individual threepoint shooter in the country, Oliver Lynch-daniels, went 1 for 4. He was a 50 percent shooter from long range this season.

Keegan Records and Ryan Moffatt each scored 13 points for the 15th-seeded Raiders, who fell to 0-6 all-time in NCAA tournament play. Tucker Richardson, the Patriot League player of the year, had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting.

Carr, a sixth-year senior who previously played at Pittsburgh and Minnesota and had the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big 12 this season, deftly directed his teammates and fired them up at the right times, too.

After driving hard toward the block, Carr kicked the ball back out to the top of the key to set up Rice’s fourth three-pointer for a 29-17 lead.

Rice, a lanky super sub and graduate transfer from New Mexico State, went 8 for 14 from the field.

LLAUBURN 83, IOWA 75: Johni Broome had 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, and the ninth-seeded Tigers beat the eighth-seeded Hawkeyes in Birmingham.

Auburn (21-12) made 11 of 12 free throws over the final four minutes to lock up a second-round matchup with No. 1 seed Houston.

Broome even made his ninth three-pointer of the season to push the margin into double digits for the first time with 16 minutes left.

The Tigers appeared poised to pull away in front of a partisan orange-and-blue crowd, going up by 17 points with a 13-2 run midway through the second half sparked by Tre Donaldson’s three three-pointers off the bench.

The Hawkeyes (19-14) cut the deficit to four points, but came no closer.

Auburn had five players score in double figures, including Wendell Green Jr. with 15 points.

Payton Sandford scored 21 points for Iowa. Kris Murray had 15 points and nine rebounds but made only 5 of 18 shots.

 ?? Alex Slitz/getty IMAGES ?? Houston’s Marcus Sasser, left, aggravated his groin problem and watched much of the game Thursday night from the bench.
Alex Slitz/getty IMAGES Houston’s Marcus Sasser, left, aggravated his groin problem and watched much of the game Thursday night from the bench.

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