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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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Tramon Mark's career-high 26 points leads 1-seed Houston to 81-64 win over 9-seed Auburn in Second Round of NCAA Tourney

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UPDATED: March 19, 2023 -- 9:53 p.m. CT

POSTED: March 18, 2023 -- 10:33 p.m. CT

BIRMINGHAM, AL -- (Legacy Arena)

The 1-seed Houston Cougars defeated the 9-seed Auburn Tigers 81-64 Saturday night in a Second Round matchup in the Midwest Region of the 2023 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Houston's Tramon Mark led Houston with a career-high 26 points. Mark scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half. Houston outscored Auburn 50-23 in the second half to erase a 10 point (41-31) halftime deficit.

Mark scored a driving layup 52 seconds into the second half for the first points of the half. Houston was the aggressor early in the second half. Houston dominated the boards 8-0 early and outscored Auburn 12-4 in the first 3 minutes, 30 seconds of the second 20 minutes.

Neither team scored the next 3 plus minutes until Houston's senior guard Marcus Sasser sank a three-pointer to put Houston on top 46-45 with 12:55 on the game clock.

Auburn struggled to make field goals. The Tigers missed 16 of 17 field goal attempts; however, the Tigers led 49-46 thanks to making free throws. Tramon Mark sank a jumper to cut Houston's deficit to 49-48.

After Auburn big man Johni Broome split 2 free throws, Mark knocked down another jumper to tie the game at 50. Houston's Jamal Shead stole the ball and was fouled. Shead sank 2 foul shots for a 52-50 Houston lead with 9:32 remaining.

Broome missed 2 free throws; and, Mark hit his third-consecutive jumper for a 54-50 Houston lead.

With Jamal Shead and Marcus Sasser on the bench with 4 fouls each, Mark carried the Coogs. With Houston up 56-55, Mark hit another jumper before making 2 free throws to increase Houston's lead to 60-55.

Houston forward J'Wan Roberts added 2 free throws before Mark sank 4 more free throws to stretch Houston's lead to 66-55 with 4:48 on the game clock.

In the second half, when Auburn was missing free throws, Roberts and Jarace Walker were blocking shots. Roberts and Walker blocked 8 Auburn field goal attempts in the second. Houston finished the game with 12 blocked shots: 5 for Roberts and 6 for Walker - a Houston NCAA Tournament Record.

The Tigers made 4 of 24 field goal attempts (16.7 fg%) in the second half. Auburn also clanged numerous free throws in the second half as the Tigers missed 11 of 26 attempts in the second half. Auburn finished the game 19 for 36 at the foul line.

Houston, on the other hand, was a perfect 18-for-18 from the line in the second half and 24 for 29 for the game.

Mark was a perfect 8-for-8 at the line and 6-for-9 from the floor in the second half. Mark also pulled down 9 rebounds to go with his 26 points.

Sasser finished the game with 22 points (7 for 14 field goals -- 5 for 8 threes) in 31 minutes. Shead scored 10 points and dished out 5 assists.

Auburn outscored Houston 22-10 in the paint in the first half. Houston outscored Auburn 18-8 in the paint in the second half.

Houston advances to the Sweet 16 and will face 5-seed Miami on Friday, March 24, in Kansas City, MO. Tip-off is 6:15 p.m. on CBS.

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