HOUSTON (AP) — Marcus Sasser scored a career-high 31 points, Jamal Shead added 20 points and six rebounds, and No. 1 Houston used a huge second half to beat South Florida 83-77 on Wednesday night.
Sasser scored 25 points and Shead had 13 as the backcourt mates combined to score 38 of Houston’s 46 second-half points. Sasser, a preseason All-American, finished 7 of 17 from the field, including 6 of 12 on 3-pointers. In the second half, Sasser and Shead combined to shoot 10 of 16 from the field and were 6 of 11 on 3s.
“My teammates were telling me it’s time step up,” Sasser said. “They were trying to get me going, giving me confidence. Being a senior on the team, being a leader, I’ve kind of seen it all. … When you have good teammates, they trust you with the ball and feel like you can change the game.”
Tramon Mark scored 13 points for Houston (17-1, 5-0 American Athletic Conference), which won its eighth straight game.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson appreciated his team’s grit during a less-than-stellar performance.
“We’ve had a lot of nights where we’ve played poorly and won over the years, but it’s a beautiful win,” Sampson said. “That game was a thing of beauty. … Get the win and go home.”
Tyler Harris scored a career-high 31 points, Russel Tchewa added 14 points and eight rebounds and Jamir Chaplin scored 14 points for the Bulls (7-10, 0-4), who lost their fourth straight.
South Florida coach Brian Gregory said Houston needed an All-American effort out of Sasser to beat the Bulls, and that’s what he gave the Cougars.
“It challenged our guys a little bit in terms of the competitiveness and toughness that you have to play with,” Gregory said. “We’re a good team. We’ve had second-half leads in all four games in our league. … It’s disappointing where we’re at.”
Harris was 9 of 13 from the field, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers.
Houston shot 42%, including 11 of 27 from the 3-point line. The Cougars forced South Florida into 18 turnovers and converted those into 13 points.
South Florida shot 49%, including 10 of 21 on 3-pointers.
“Every time it looked like we were about to stretch it out from 10 to 12 or 12 to 15 or something like that, they would bang a 3,” Sampson said. “They’ve been a poor 3-point shooting team and free throw (shooting team). Not tonight, but that’s how upsets occur. It’s nights like tonight.”
Trailing 53-48 with 14 1/2 minutes remaining, Houston went on a 20-4 run over the next 7 1/2 minutes to open up an 11-point lead on a 3-pointer by Shead. Sasser scored 13 points during the burst. The Bulls got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
Houston used a 10-0 run to open a 37-26 lead on a 3-pointer by Emanuel Sharp with three minutes left in the first half, but South Florida answered with a 10-0 run to end the half to cut the lead to one on a layup by Chaplin.
South Florida: The Bulls fell to 0-6 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams. … South Florida did not hit a field goal for nearly 8 1/2 minutes in the second half as Houston went on its run. … The Bulls outrebounded Houston 36-30, and South Florida had a 26-22 edge in points in the paint.
Houston: Jarace Walker, who had scored more than 20 points in two straight games, was out of the lineup with an illness. … The 36 first-half points by the Bulls were the most Houston has allowed before halftime this season, and the 77 points allowed was also a season high. … Houston won its 12th straight over the Bulls.
The teams combined for 45 fouls. Houston shot 22 of 32 from the free-throw line, led by Sasser, who was 11 of 14. The Bulls were 21 of 27 from the line, with Tchewa going 8 of 9.
South Florida: At East Carolina on Sunday.
Houston: At Tulane on Jan. 17.