No. 5 Houston carries winning streak to East Carolina

NCAA Men's Basketball

Fifth-ranked Houston rolled to its eighth consecutive victory Sunday, a 70-48 blowout of visiting SMU that provided the latest example of the Cougars’ strength when the effort is collective.

Houston (15-1, 10-1 American Athletic Conference) will aim to maintain its focus Wednesday when it opposes East Carolina in Greenville, N.C.

The Cougars have produced an average margin of victory of 21.2 points over their past six contests. With the Cougars, the lead performance can seemingly come from any direction, and Marcus Sasser provided a lift against the Mustangs.

With Quentin Grimes, the Cougars’ leading scorer, having his streak of double-digit scoring games snapped at seven, Sasser filled the void with 19 points. Sasser did so on the heels of a three-point effort at Tulane last Thursday. He took his cue from a support group of teammates and coaches who continue to insist that he assert himself offensively.

“Coach (Kelvin Sampson) tells me all the time he doesn’t care how many times I miss, just keep shooting,” Sasser said. “Even when I am off to a bad start (like against SMU), I keep shooting and gaining confidence because my teammates put that confidence in me even though I miss.”

The Cougars continue to excel defensively and on the glass, and it’s a well-earned reputation. Sasser and Grimes often share the scoring load. DeJon Jarreau has mastered the ability to do a little of everything needed to win, and Justin Gorham grabbed 17 rebounds against the Mustangs, his eighth consecutive double-digit rebounding performance.

Gorham is the first Houston player to record such a streak since Tim Moore had an eight-game run during the 1995-96 season. He leads the team in rebounding at 10.2 per game, just one cog in an efficient machine.

“Rebounding is heart, and nobody’s heart is bigger than Justin’s,” Sampson said. “Justin has gotten better. He has fully embraced rebounding. It couldn’t have been a better match.”

East Carolina (7-6, 1-6) dropped its fifth consecutive game Saturday, cratering down the stretch of a 77-68 home loss to Tulsa. The Pirates surrendered a 12-3 run over the final three minutes en route to the defeat. With multiple postponements mixed in as part of their losing skid, they haven’t tasted victory since defeating Tulane at home on Dec. 22.

The victory over the Green Wave is the only conference win for the Pirates this season.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Jayden Gardner, who leads East Carolina in scoring (17.1 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 per game). “We’ve got to figure how to win. We’ve got to be able to execute down the stretch, listen better and execute better in the X’s and O’s.”

–Field Level Media

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