Houston star Sasser is now a big question mark at March Madness

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Marcus Sasser thought his groin was feeling better, certainly good enough to give it a go in the NCAA Tournament.

The All-American guard started for the top-seeded Houston Cougars against No. 16 seeded Northern Kentucky and he certainly looked great sinking a 3-pointer early Thursday night .

But that was about it for the best player on a team that was supposed to be fighting for a national championship.

Sasser managed just one more field goal in less than 14 minutes of playing time. And when the second half started, he was watching from the bench.

This is where he stayed the rest of the night.

“He said it was funny,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “So he shut it down, which is the right thing to do.”

Now, one of March Madness’ biggest stars is a huge question mark, and the Cougars could be in big trouble if he can’t make the second round on Saturday.

Houston will face ninth-seeded Auburn, a team that plays mostly at home in the first two rounds. The Tigers campus is only about a two-hour drive from Legacy Arena in downtown Birmingham.

“I have a lot more pressing issues to deal with than that,” Sampson said of Auburn’s home court advantage. “I need to see how many healthy bodies we have right now. That’s probably our most important thing.

Sampson also revealed that starting guard Jamal Shead had knee pain. Shead still managed to play over 36 minutes against the Norse, who held out for most of the game before the Cougars won 63-52.

Obviously, the biggest concern is Sasser, who injured his groin in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament last weekend.

Sasser sat out the AAC Championship Game, and he missed a lot when the Cougars (32-3) were eliminated by Memphis.

Despite the loss, Houston was still rewarded with a No. 1 seed.

Sasser took Monday and Tuesday off and did a light workout on Wednesday.

Sasser and the Houston coaching staff believed the extra rest, combined with the treatment he received, left him healthy enough to play in the NCAA opener.

Sampson almost fell in denunciation before deciding to send his best player in the first five.

“We have great coaches and I’ve been with Marcus for four years,” Sampson said. “I trust Marcus and I trust our coaches. I leave the decision to them. Marcus knows his body better than anyone in this room, including me.

“It would have been nice if Marcus had decided not to play tonight. But he wanted to try. He thought it was a high enough percentage at 100 that he could go. But when he came out he didn’t s didn’t feel capable.

Sasser, who was averaging 17.1 points per game, became Houston’s first Associated Press All-America first-team selection since 1984.

He’s a dynamic offensive leader, and it was clear how much his absence meant as the Cougars struggled to tidy up Northern Kentucky.

Houston went just 4 of 16 from 3-pointers.

“We didn’t do an open 3 all night,” Sampson said. “That’s the name of the game. When you have your eyes open, you have to put the cookie in the basket. And we have one of the best shooters in the country in Marcus Sasser.


AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and support: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top -25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25


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