Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the first half Wednesday as the 17th-ranked Houston Cougars turned suffocating defense and rebounding into an 89-45 season-opening, nonconference win over visiting Lamar at the Fertitta Center.
Sasser finished 9-for-11 from the floor including 7-of-9 on 3-point attempts to pace the Cougars (1-0), who played without American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year Caleb Mills (ankle).
Sophomore guard Anderson Kopp paced Lamar with 15 points on 8-of-9 free-throw shooting.
Houston stifled the Cardinals (0-1) early and didn't relent, limiting Lamar to two field goals by the midpoint of the first half and overcoming a scoring drought with a late closing kick.
The Cougars were sluggish early on the offensive end -- missing eight consecutive field goals in one stretch -- but Sasser kept them in control by making his first three shots, all from beyond the arc.
Still, with six minutes left in the first half, Houston's lead was just 17-11 when Justin Gorham converted a second-chance basket, and the Cougars got untracked. Sasser added a 3 and a driving layup.
Lamar missed its final six field goals prior to the intermission as Houston turned a 9-0 run into a 35-15 halftime lead.
The Cardinals made 4 of 20 shots in the half and were outrebounded 29-16. The Cougars turned 13 offensive boards into eight second-chance points.
Houston forced 10 turnovers and outscored Lamar 14-0 in the paint in the first half.
Lamar opened the second half by converting its initial three shots, cutting the deficit to 37-22. But Sasser drilled another 3, freshman Tramon Mark scored a layup and the Cougars parlayed a 15-5 run into a 63-35 lead just prior to the 10-minute mark of the second half.
In making his college debut, Mark came off the bench to score 22 points, all in the second half. Senior guard DeJon Jarreau (nine points, eight rebounds) and junior guard Quintin Grimes (eight points, seven boards) flirted with double-doubles.
Houston outrebounded Lamar 49-34.
--Field Level Media