Houston’s Marcus Sasser drew half; that state

Alex ScarboroughESPN staff writer2 minute chapter

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who beat No. 16 Northern Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night, defended the decision to play star guard Marcus Sasser, who recently suffered a concussion. groin injury.

Sasser — the All-American conference player of the year, an All-American and one of the top scorers in college basketball — injured his groin during the conference tournament less than a week ago. He started against Northern Kentucky but played just 14 minutes before aggravating the injury, limping to the bench and being pulled from the game.

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

Sasser told reporters after the game that he “definitely” had a chance to play against No. 9 on Saturday.

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

“I’ve been with Marcus for four years,” she said. “I trust Marcus and I trust our coach. I’ll leave those decisions up to them. Marcus knows his body better than anyone in this room, myself included.

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

Sampson believed his team was deflated when Sasser was sidelined in the second half. Without him — and without a fully healthy roster from top to bottom — Sampson said Houston is not No. 1 material.

“We’re not having another Marcus Sasser,” he said. “But everyone has to stay in their own lane.”

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

Auburn enjoys a favorable crowd because it’s only 100 miles from campus, but Sampson downplayed the advantage.

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

Instead, Sampson turned the spotlight on Northern Kentucky’s strong play, which kept the game close throughout.

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

Sampson mentioned that the Norwegian scored 21 points on second-chance opportunities.

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

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