HOUSTON (AP) — The top-ranked Houston Cougars had star Marcus Sasser for just eight minutes Tuesday night before he left with a cut over his eye.
But the Cougars had several young players step up to make up for his loss as they rolled to a 76-42 win over North Florida.
Ja’Vier Francis, a sophomore, scored 14 points and Sasser had 12 points. Freshman Jarace Walker added 12 points with 10 rebounds, and fellow freshman Emanuel Sharp scored nine.
“The guy I was most pleased with was Jarace,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Freshman usually don’t play major minutes here … Jarace has been knocked down this year, but he keeps getting up.”
Sasser, who entered the game averaging 17.5 points, made two 3-pointers early as the Cougars scored the first eight points of the game. He continued his hot start and scored 12 points as Houston (9-0) built a 24-13 lead with about 12 minutes left in the first half. But, he got hit in the face soon after and left the game with the cut above his left eye.
“Marcus was on one of those benders where he was getting ready to get busy,” Sampson said. “He was on his way.”
A school spokesman said he received stitches for the cut and was questionable to return. But, he didn’t come back with the Cougars holding a huge lead for the rest of the night.
Sampson said Sasser received five stitches, and was OK after the game.
“That was a nasty one,” Sampson said of the cut. “It’s like boxers when they hit you and open it up right above your eyebrow.”
The Cougars were up by 10 about four minutes after Sasser’s injury and then used a 14-0 run, with two 3-pointers by Sharp, to end the half and take a 42-18 lead into the break.
Sharp said hours in the gym practicing has helped improve his shooting.
“I’ve gotten comfortable,” he said. “It makes me that much better of a player.”
The Ospreys missed eight shots and had four turnovers in that span, allowing Houston to pad the lead.
“We locked down,” Sampson said.
Houston held North Florida (2-6) to 29.2% shooting and forced 10 turnovers before the break.
The Cougars entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense by allowing just 48 points a game and continued their stingy defensive play Tuesday to stay undefeated.
Jarius Hicklen made a 3-pointer for North Florida to start the second half, but the Cougars scored the next eight points to stretch the lead to 50-21 about 14½ minutes to go.
Hicklen led the Ospreys with 12 points, but also had five turnovers as they dropped their second straight game.
Sasser’s performance gave him 1,006 points in his career, making him the 50th player in school history to reach 1,000 points. His two 3-pointers Tuesday gave him 200 in his career, making him just the seventh Cougar to reach that mark.
The Cougars had another great defensive performance, but might need to find a way to produce more offensively as they begin to face tougher competition beginning Saturday when they meet No. 8 Alabama.
Sampson was thrilled that his team had 17 offensive rebounds.
“The big thing … is we got to 50% of our misses,” he said. “Offensive rebounding is very important to us.”
North Florida: Hosts Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.
Houston: Hosts Alabama on Saturday.