When Marcus Sasser felt the occasional twinge in his groin, he simply blocked it out. With so much on the line, he was determined to stay on the court for top-seeded Houston.
Now, he’s got a few more days to recuperate before the Sweet 16.
Tramon Mark scored a career-best 26 points and Sasser added 22 — including five 3-pointers — as the Cougars stifled local favorite Auburn in the second half for an 81-64 victory at the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night at Birmingham, Ala.
The Cougars (33-3) erased a 10-point halftime deficit, returning after the break with a chip on their shoulders.
“We came out on fire,” Mark said. “Everything was clicking for us in the second half.”
Essentially shutting down the lane, Houston played with the desperation of a national championship contender that wasn’t ready to suffer the same fate as Purdue and Kansas — No. 1s already sent home.
Houston on Friday will face No. 4 Indiana or No. 5 Miami, which play Sunday, at the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Mo.
All eyes were on Sasser as he continued to deal with a groin injury that forced him to sit out the second half of Houston’s NCAA opener. But the All-American was determined to go all the way in this one.
The only thing that sent him to the bench was foul trouble. Sasser and point guard Jamal Shead were forced to the bench with four fouls apiece with the game still in doubt.
“I probably felt it a couple of times,” said Sasser, who played nearly 31 minutes. “But it was pain I could go through and keep pushing.”
The ninth-seeded Tigers (21-13) were doomed by a stretch of more than 10½ minutes without a field goal and went 4 of 24 from the field in the second half.
Auburn did draw plenty of fouls, only to struggle mightily at the line with a 19-of-36 showing. Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome led the Tigers with 14 points apiece.
When Sasser swished a 3-pointer to push Houston back ahead, 46-45, he let out an emphatic scream on his way back down the court. He finished 5 of 9 beyond the arc.
Houston had 12 blocks, half of them swatted away by Jarace Walker, with five more shots turned away by J’Wan Roberts.
Tennessee tops Duke
Olivier Nkamhoua tied his career high with 27 points, including 13 straight for Tennessee during a decisive span in the second half, and the fourth-seeded Volunteers beat Duke, 65-52, in Orlando to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019.
Santiago Vescovi added 14 points and five assists for Tennessee (25-10), which ended Duke’s 10-game winning streak and sent first-year coach Jon Scheyer — charged with replacing Mike Krzyzewski — home after just two men’s NCAA Tournament games.
Nkamhoua made 10 of 13 shots and put an exclamation mark on Tennessee’s victory with an emphatic slam with 1:15 remaining.
Tennessee advanced to face Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday in the East Region at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Duke (27-9) didn’t handle Tennessee’s imposing style very well. The Volunteers set the tone early, clearly wanting to push around Kyle Filipowski and get their hands in the faces of guards Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor.
Tennessee big man Uros Plavsic picked up two offensive fouls in the first four minutes, both going against Filipowski. Duke’s 7-footer later took an elbow to his face and ended up with a small cut under his left eye.
Proctor led Duke with 16 points. Roach and Filipowski chipped in 13 apiece.
San Diego State routs Furman
San Diego State had little trouble ending the run of March Madness darling 13th-seeded Furman (28-8), getting 16 points from Micah Parrish to pace a balanced scoring attack and pulling away for a 75-52 second-round win.
Darrion Trammell had 13 points, Lamont Butler added 12, and leading scorer Matt Bradley finished with 10 for San Diego State (29-6), which is heading to its first Sweet 16 since 2004.
The fifth-seeded Aztecs have won 11 of their past 13 games and will play Alabama or Maryland in the South Region semifinals in Louisville, Ky.
Two days after shrugging off cold shooting and overcoming a 12-point, second-half deficit to shock No. 4 seed Virginia, 68-67, on JP Pegues’s bracket-busting 3-pointer, the Paladins were outmuscled and gradually worn down by the much more physical Aztecs.
San Diego State led, 39-25, at the half, getting 14 points off the bench from Parrish and limiting Furman to one field goal over the final 11 minutes leading into the break.
The Aztecs took control during a 15-0 run that turned a 2-point deficit into a 30-17 lead. Furman missed seven straight shots and turned the ball over four times during a 9:56 field goal drought that dumped the Paladins into the big halftime hole.
Mike Bothwell led the Paladins with 15 points. Alex Williams had 11 and Pegues finished with 11.
Disu shoots lights out for Texas
Dylan Disu had a season-high 28 points on 14-for-20 shooting, steadying Texas after a late Penn State surge and leading the Longhorns to their first regional in 15 years with a 71-66 victory at Des Moines. The second-seeded Longhorns (28-8) made just one of 13 shots from 3-point land, so Disu turned this one into a mid-range game. He went 5 for 5 over the final 4½ minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds for good measure. Sir’Jabari Rice scored 13 points for Texas, which will play the Pittsburgh-Xavier winner on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals in Kansas City, Mo. Camren Wynter had 16 points for the 10th-seeded Nittany Lions (23-14 … Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points and UCLA withstood a second-half push from Northwestern to get to its third straight Sweet 16 with a 68-63 victory in Sacramento. The second-seeded Bruins (31-5) held the seventh-seeded Wildcats (22-12) to 1-for-12 shooting during a key late-game stretch to seal the win. The win was marred when David Singleton went down in pain with a right leg injury with 20.3 seconds remaining. There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury. The Bruins play Thursday night in the West Region semifinals at Las Vegas against Gonzaga or TCU. Boo Buie scored 18 points to lead Northwestern.