Houston, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region, limped its way to a tougher-than-expected 62-53 victory over No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky on Thursday in a first-round game in Legacy Arena at the BJCC.

Afterward, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was asked what his team needed to clean up before playing Auburn on Saturday night. He responded that this team needs to get healthy for that game, which tips off at 6:10.

The Cougars' leading scorer Marcus Sasser aggravated a groin injury that he suffered in the AAC Tournament semifinals last weekend. Sasser sat out the tournament championship loss to Memphis. He played in the first half but went to the bench in pain not long before halftime. He did not play in the second half. According to Sampson, Houston point guard Jamal Shead is dealing with a knee problem.

It's not good timing, but the Cougars have to find a way to get past the injuries.

On Thursday, Houston had trouble creating distance from Northern Kentucky, despite the Norse having trouble from outside the 3-point arc. Northern Kentucky was 5 of 34 on 3-pointers, with many of those misses coming on uncontested shots.

Houston had trouble getting into a rhythm on the offensive end. In the second half, Emanuel Sharp gave the Cougars a spark off the bench with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. His second 3-pointer gave Houston a 47-38 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining.

Freshman Jarace Walker had 16 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Shead had 13 points and six assists but also turned the ball over six times.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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