Tramon Mark scored a career-high 26 points and the Houston defense did the rest as No. 1-seeded Cougars came back in the second half for an 81-64 win over ninth-seeded Auburn on Saturday in an NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional second-round game in Birmingham, Ala.
The Cougars (33-3) advance to play either fourth-seeded Indiana or fifth-seeded Miami, who play Sunday evening, in the Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday in Kansas City.
Houston trailed by 10 at halftime but swept to the lead with a 15-4 run to begin the second half. Then, with top scorers Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead on the bench with foul trouble, Mark took charge and carried the Cougars to the Sweet 16.
"You know, sometimes it's not always about fussing and cussing, hollering and yelling. I didn't holler or yell," Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. "I just said, ‘If we will play our defense, we will get back in this game.' And so the biggest thing was Shead. I thought Shead was out there BS-ing first half. I thought Marcus's leg or his groin was bothering him laterally.
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I said, "You are either going to play or not play. If you are going to be out there, you have to guard." So I think both of them were more interested in their injuries than they were competing. So once we got out there and played our defense ... that's what changed the game around, we started getting stops way before they started missing free throws," Sampson said.
Sasser finished with 22 points, Shead had 10 and Jarace Walker took 10 rebounds for Houston.
Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams led the Tigers with 14 points each and Allen Flanigan added 10 to go with nine rebounds. Auburn (21-13) finished 4 of 24 from the floor in the second half.
The game went back and forth over the first 16 minutes until a 10-0 run capped by a jumper by Williams allowed the Tigers to take their largest lead to that point, 34-27, with 2:39 to play in the first half. J'Wan Roberts' layup off a Shead assist stopped the surge for Houston, but Flanigan's layup with 1:50 remaining pushed Auburn's lead back to seven.
Shead cut the Houston deficit to 36-31 on a layup with 1:33 left, but the Tigers got a three-point play from Williams and a jumper from Broome to carry a 41-31 advantage into the break.
Williams led all scorers with 11 points before halftime as the Tigers scored 22 points in the paint. Sasser led the Cougars with nine points but was kept scoreless in the final 14:45 of the half.
Houston's defense clamped down on the Tigers over the first seven minutes of the second half, sweeping to a 46-45 lead on Sasser's 3-pointer with 12:56 to play. Auburn made just one of 10 shots over that stretch.
Sasser picked up his fourth foul with 10:52 to play and went to the bench with the Tigers up 49-46. Shead was then whistled for his fourth foul with 8:22 remaining, meaning Houston had its top two scorers out of the game in the run-up to clutch time.
--Field Level Media
Originally published on fieldlevelmedia.com, part of the BLOX Digital Content Exchange.