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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Marcus Sasser's 30 points leads 1-seed Houston to 60-46 win over 9-seed East Carolina

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POSTED: March 10, 2023 -- 7:33 p.m. CT

FORT WORTH, TX -- (Dickies Arena)

The 1-seed Houston Cougars defeated the 9-seed East Carolina Pirates 60-46 Friday afternoon in the first quarterfinal of the 2023 American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship.

Making shots in today's game was a rare commodity. Three players made more than 50 percent of their field goal attempts. Three.

Houston senior guard Marcus Sasser scored a game-high 30 points. Sasser was the only Coogs player to shoot 50 percent or better: Sasser made 9 of 15 field goal attempts. The rest of the Coogs combined to make 7 of 42 field goals.

Seven of forty-two.

East Carolina was slightly better from the floor. Freshman forward Ezra Ausar made 6 of 10 field goals and senior center Ludgy Debaut made his only field goal attempt.

The rest of the Pirates combined to make 7 of 40 field goal attempts.

The lack of shot making by both teams neutralized any impact in the game. Houston won the game at the foul line and scoring points off turnovers.

Houston scored 19 points off East Carolina's 7 turnovers. The Coogs owned a 19-6 edge in points off turnovers. Houston also made 20 of 26 free throws (76.9 ft%) including 18 for 23 (78.3 ft%) in the second half.

East Carolina missed 9 free throws in the game -- all 9 in the second half -- and finished 11 for 20 (55.0 ft%) at the foul line.

Houston led 23-21 at the half - despite getting outrebounded 24-14 in the first half. Ausar produced a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) in the first half. Ausar was the best big man on the floor.

Houston scored the first 6 points of the second half to lead 29-21. Marcus Sasser hit a three-point shot in transition for the six point lead. Sasser scored 9 of Houston's next 13 points to help Houston lead 42-28 with 12:22 left in the second half.

East Carolina outscored Houston 9-3 to climb within 8 (45-37) with 8:42 remaining in the game. Sasser scored 4 of Houston's next 6 points to boost Houston's lead to 12 (51-39) 6:19 to go in the game.

The Pirates did not get closer than 10 in the final 6 minutes.

Ezra Ausar finished the game with 18 points and 19 rebounds. Ausar's 19 boards is a new record in the American Athletic Conference Championships.

"That's impressive," Kelvin Sampson, Houston Head Coach said after the game. "He's a tough kid."

With today's win over East Carolina, the 2022-23 Cougars became the sixth team in school history to record a 30-win season.

This marked the second straight 30-win season for the Houston Men's Basketball program. It's only the second time in school history and the first time since 1982-83 (31-3) and 1983-84 (32-5) that the Cougars accomplished that feat.

Houston's next game will be Saturday, March 11, at Dickies Arena, in the semifinals of the 2023 American Athletic Conference Championship. Houston will face 4-seed Cincinnati. Tip for Saturday's game is set for 2 p.m. Central Time on ESPN2.

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