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No. 6 Houston grinds out 63-54 win at UCF

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POSTED: December 26, 2020 -- 5:55 p.m. CT

ORLANDO, FL (Addition Financial Arena) -- The 6th-ranked Houston Cougars men's basketball team won 63-54 over the UCF Knights Saturday afternoon in a gritty, hard fought ball game. Houston sophomore guard Marcus Sasser scored a game-high 19 points to helped Houston earn the win.

Sasser said, "I think every game that we play now, no matter who it is, just because the number we are in the country. Every team is going to play their hardest. I think every game - for the other team - is their biggest game of the year against us; so, that's why this game is very important no matter who it is or where it's at, we've got to come out with the right mindset and play Cougar basketball."

"Who we are; how we defend; how we rebound; getting stops. Our offense was kind of a struggle today," Kelvin Sampson, Houston Head Coach said after the game. "But, it's like watching Miss America walk across the stage -- some people are going to focus on a bunion on her foot. I'm not looking at the bunion. -- That's a great road win today."

After Quentin Grimes swished a three-point shot for a 3-0 Houston lead, Houston did not make another basket for nine minutes and UCF outscored 14-1 to lead 14-4 when Sasser sank a three-point shot and a free throw to complete the 4-point play and cut Houston's deficit to 14-7 with 10:06 on the game clock.

Houston (7-0 overall, 2-0 in the AAC) scored 5 more points for a 9-0 run before UCF's Darrin Green split two free throws. Houston trailed 15-13 with 8:28 on the clock. Neither team scored for nearly two minutes; then, Houston's Caleb Mills scored five straight points to put Houston ahead 18-15.

UCF (3-2, 1-1) answered with 4 consecutive points to regain the lead. Sasser sank another three-point shot for a 21-19 Houston lead. After teammate Jamal Shead split 2 foul shots, Sasser sank his third three-pointer of the first half to stretch Houston's lead to 25-21 with 86 seconds remaining in the opening half.

UCF scored the final four points of the half for a 25-25 tie at halftime.

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UCF's Dre Fuller Jr scored a layup off an offensive rebound for a 27-25 UCF early in the second half. However, Houston's senior post player, Brison Gresham scored 4 points during a 6-2 Houston spurt to put Houston on top 31-29.

Coach Sampson said he made a concerted effort to get the ball inside more in the second half.

"We knew we had to get the ball in the paint. First half, we were taking too many threes; and, we're not a great three-point shooting team.

"I knew once we got them to react to the roller we could free up some of our guys to go offensive rebound. When you're shooting threes, there's no disadvantage anywhere. Everybody's matched up on somebody to block out. We didn't penetrate. We didn't get the ball in the paint. But, I knew at halftime we could fix that a little bit."

Marcus Sasser knocked down another three-pointer for a 34-29 Houston lead. UCF responded with an 7-3 burst to trim Houston's lead to 37-36; however, Sasser scored a layup and Gresham sank 2 foul shots sandwiched around two UCF free throws for a 41-38 Houston lead with 11:23 remaining in the second half.

DeJon Jarreau made a three-point shot and Caleb Mills sank two free throws during a 5-1 spurt for a 46-39 Houston lead. Jarreau scored a driving layup to increase Houston's lead to 48-41 with 7:55 remaining in the game.

Houston went scoreless the next four minutes before Mills used dribble with his left hand; crossed the ball over to his right hand; then, quickly went behind-his-back from right to left along the baseline to beat his defender and score a reverse layup for a 50-45 Houston lead.

"I just have a lot of confidence in myself," Mills said when he described the move. "Coach Sampson has a lot of confidence in me. All the coaches do. They trust me. My teammates trust me as well as I trust them; so, the more hours you spend, the work shows. If you work hard, it's going to come out for everything you want. It's going to come out."

Gresham made two free throws to increase Houston's lead to 54-48; then, Mills converted a three-point play with a layup and a made free throw to boost Houston's lead to 57-48 with just 73 seconds to go in the contest.

Sasser and Jarreau iced the game at the foul line to close out the Houston victory.

Jarreau finished the game with 10 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds.

After the game, Sasser said, "I think we needed this. This hard game on the road. First road game. I feel like it's going to give us a lot of confidence going on during the season. We figured out who is tough. We figured out that road games aren't easy to win; but, finding a way to just, come out, grit it out, and win the game."

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"We've got enough guards that we don't have to depend on one," Coach Sampson acknowledge. "Quentin didn't have a great game tonight; but, that's okay, we have Caleb. We've got Marcus. We've got a lot of guards that can make plays. That's why I'm encouraged about this team. Our toughness the second half was outstanding."


Houston lost the rebounding battle in the ball game 38-28.

Kelvin Sampson: "I didn't think our guards did a good rebounding tonight - especially on the offensive boards.

"DeJon, zero offensive rebounds. Quentin, zero offensive rebounds. Marcus is going to get back (on defense); so, I don't worry about him. Caleb. Tramon.

"We've got to get better at that. We've got to fix that.

"Nate (Nate Hinton) wasn't as good as good as some of these guys at certain things; but, that was the one thing you could always count on with him. They all have different strengths; and, that was a strength of Nate.

"Tonight, Justin only played 21 minutes; but, they (UCF) did a great job. Hats off to Johnny (UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins) and his staff. They did a great job. They focused on blocking us out. They did a good job of blocking us out; but, if you're going to rebound in this game, it had to come from the guards. Our guards were no-shows on the offensive boards tonight."

Caleb Mills added, "We didn't do our job collectively rebounding. We did a good job defending; but, we didn't like the way we played at all."

"We just came out with the wrong mindset. I could feel it in warm ups. Its got work itself out through the game. The next game we'll be on top of it. We'll work on it in practice. It's a lesson for us even though we won."


Houston's next game is Tuesday, December 29, at 8 p.m., at Tulsa. ESPN2 will broadcast the game.

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