Culture / Sporting Life

Marcus Sasser Reminds Everyone Who He Is — How One of College Basketball’s Best Shut Up a Yappy Underdog, Refused to Let No. 1 Houston Lose

South Florida Is More Than Game, But the Bulls Cannot Withstand Sasser

BY // 01.12.23

South Florida guard Tyler Harris talked more junk than Jerrod Carmichael did in his often hilariously biting Golden Globes hosting gig. Harris, a transfer from UH-hating Memphis, barked at the No. 1 team in the land’s guards every chance he could. And when Harris wasn’t talking, he threw out enough hand gestures — a throat slash here, a shush sign there, even the too small hand lowering thing (which is actually funny coming from a 5-foot-9 guard with plenty of heart) — to win a traffic cop audition.

But Harris, as big as he played, may have forgotten just who one of the guys he relentlessly trash talked is. Marcus Sasser be his name. Take it in vain and you’ll usually pay.

“He’s Marcus Sasser,” UH point guard Jamal Shead tells PaperCity. “He’s really good at what he does.”

In fact, Sasser is one of the very best players in all of college basketball. And he reminds everyone of that while crushing a game, inspired, playing-out-of-its-minds South Florida team’s upset dreams with an absolute second half blitz. This No. 1 ranked Houston team hasn’t really needed Marcus Sasser to rescue it this season, but the preseason All-American guard does just that in this 83-77 win.

Sasser puts up 25 points in the second half, turning now 7-10 South Florida’s unlikely 51-46 lead with 14;26 remaining into dust. He finishes with a career-high 31 points, which is only the second time this season he’s scored more than 20 for Kelvin Sampson’s most talented UH team ever.

Yes, Marcus Sasser is more than capable of still doing Marcus Sasser things. When Houston needs it.

“Marcus’ game has been coming,” UH coach Kelvin Sampson says. “These guys aren’t machines. They’re not going to just run out there and play great every night.”

Sasser knows how to rise to the moment though. He’s been showing that for years. This is the guy who dropped 20 points on Baylor in a Final Four game on a night when his older teammates largely struggled. Tyler Harris and the rest of the South Florida players tried to get in Marcus Sasser’s head — and instead found out just how strong it is.

“I think that’s their whole game plan,” Sasser says of underdog teams trying to be extra physical with Houston and mess with their minds.

Houston is 17-1 in part because the Cougars largely haven’t fallen for the bait.

“We just got to come out be who were are and stay mentally tough,” Shead tells PaperCity. “I got out of character a little bit tonight. But we’ve just got to keep playing and keep being who we are.”

When any of the Cougars start to forget that, a teammate is usually quick with a reminder. UH’s three guard starting rotation of Sasser, Shead and Tramon Mark in particular are always talking to each other. Always pumping each other up. Serving as each other’s basketball conscience in many ways.

On this night, Shead and Mark both urge Sasser to take over. To keep shooting. To exert his will.

“Marcus is our best player,” Shead says. “When we’re down or need a bucket, we usually go to him. We try to get him going with some encouraging words. Tell him we need him. That we need him to come out and do what he does best.”

In turning back South Florida, Sasser reminds everyone of just what a basketball assassin he can be. Sasser hits three cold-blooded stepback 3-pointers in the second half — two in a row in one sequence — that rock the Bulls. There are few sights more frightening in college basketball than Marcus Sasser with the ball isolated one-on-one against a defender at the top of the key.

Sasser can rock a defender to sleep with one of the best handles in college basketball and that top-of-the-key three just may be his favorite shot.

“That’s really just hard work,” Sasser tells PaperCity. “I’ve just practiced that shot a lot of times. It’s really just being ready for the moment.”

“He’s Marcus Sasser. He’s really good at what he does.” — UH point guard Jamal Shead

The #3 ranked University of Houston Cougars beat the McNeese State Cowboys 83-44 , at the Fertitta Center
UH guard Marcus Sasser is one of the best shooters in America. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Tyler Harris’ own 31 point showing cannot be discounted. He earns those points against the best defensive team in the country and forces UH to win with its offense. But Sasser grabs the moments that count most in this game.

And Jamal Shead creates some of his own too. After getting blistered by Sampson for his defense on Harris, and getting a calmer but no less emphatic talking to from assistant coach Quannas White, Shead scores 13 points in the second half, hitting two huge 3-pointers of his own.

With super freshman Jarace Walker missing the game with a 103 degree fever, every bit of UH’s backcourt power is needed. That three guard monster of Sasser, Shead and Mark scores 42 of Houston’s 46 second half points. And Shead is the only one of the three who ever leaves the floor in that second half. For a total of 12 seconds.

“This has been a tough stretch,” Sampson says. “I think it’s our third game in six days. We got so many guys out. Even (deep reserve Darius) Bowser had a death in his family and he had to fly back home for a funeral. Jarace (Walker) had a 103 degree temperature yesterday. So I knew yesterday he wasn’t playing.

“Who else? Ramon (Walker Jr., who is away from the team dealing with life issues). You might as well say (starting forward) J’Wan (Roberts) was out tonight too. He didn’t play.”

Roberts struggles to three points, three rebounds and foul fouls in just 17 minutes — and that verbal kick in the butt from Sampson. UH’s demanding basketball lifer of a coach will single Roberts out as one of the three most improved players in the entire American Athletic Conference later in the same press conference.

University of Houston Cougars defeated the East Carolina Pirates 79-36 Saturday, January 22, 2022 at the Fertitta Center. Kyler Edwards had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Jamal Shead uses little runners and floaters in the lane to great effect for Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

But winning like this, winning with Walker out and several other players not at the top of their games — and still avoiding one of the upsets that almost all the other teams in the Top 10 have suffered — shows the real strength of this No. 1 Houston team.

No matter what’s happening, this UH team, and this coach, seem to have an answer.

Marcus Sasser and The Power of Four Guards

Against South Florida that means playing a four guard lineup — Sasser, Shead, Mark and Emanuel Sharp or Terrance Arceneaux, often with bruising senior forward Reggie Chaney as the only big — a ton. While Sampson displays some contempt for going with the four guard attack after the game, he used it effectively before in small spurts this season and turned to it in last season’s injured-riddled coaching miracle season.

And UH is ready to play it against South Florida when it needs to go to four guards. That speaks to this No. 1 team’s coaching and preparation too.

“Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention,” Sampson says when I ask him about going to the four guard lineup. “I had no choice. We didn’t have any fours left. I’ve got two fours.

“. . . I thought Terrance did some good things tonight. He had three offensive rebounds. Terrance is a good offensive rebounder. Emanuel was doing some good things, he just gets lost some times. Like a freshman.”

But this No. 1 team never gets lost. Even as other elite teams in college basketball stumble around the Cougars. Houston (17-1), defending.national champion Kansas (16-1) and Purdue (15-1) are the only teams in the Top 10 with a single loss.

No matter what’s happening, this No. 1 Houston team, and this coach, seem to have an answer.

Kelvin Sampson doesn’t like to lose. Marcus Sasser doesn’t either.

Push Sasser, talk at him, forget who he is and he just might remind you.

“Marcus has got plenty of mud in his blood,” Sampson says admiringly. “This isn’t Phantom of the Opera. What’s that Christmas play they have every year? This ain’t the Nutcracker.

“It’s competition. It’s more like gladiators and fighters.”

One of the very best players in college basketball is ready when it comes to that. And more than able. Marcus Sasser be his name.

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