HOUSTON (AP) — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson described the Cougars' play in their season opener as the holy trinity of their program — defend, rebound and take care of the ball.
The Cougars used that combination to cruise to victory.
Marcus Sasser scored 25 points, Tramon Mark added 22 points and eight rebounds and No. 17 Houston beat Lamar 89-45 on Wednesday.
Sasser shot 9 of 11, including 7 of 9 on 3-pointers.
“I see it every day in practice, so I know it will pay off in a game,” DeJon Jarreau said of Sasser. “He shoots when he’s open. He’s unselfish. He’s one of our best shooters.”
Jarreau had nine points and eight rebounds, and Quentin Grimes chipped in eight points and seven rebounds.
“They’ve been drilling that in our head in practice to limit turnovers, offensive rebounding,” Sasser said. “Coming out in the first game, we wanted to come out and put it as like that’s how we win.”
The Cougars, who entered the season ranked for the first time since starting the 1983-84 season at No. 3, shot 42% from the field. Houston finished 13 of 33 on 3-pointers and outrebounded the Cardinals 49-34. Houston had nine turnovers.
“I thought our guys moved the ball well,” Sampson said. “We shot poorly, but we played good on offense because we got good shots. … I want our guys to move the ball and keep shooting. They’ll go in. We did a lot of good things.”
Anderson Kopp scored 15 points and Avery Sullivan added eight points and seven rebounds to lead Lamar. The Cardinals shot 30%, including 1 of 13 on 3-pointers.
“We are not in the shape we need to be in to play against a team like this,” Lamar coach Tic Price said. “We had some time — two weeks — in quarantine when they were getting ready. We had to play some people that we probably wouldn’t have given a shot at in a game like this.”
Playing in front of a 25% capacity crowd, the Cougars started slowly before finishing the first half on an 18-4 run to take a 35-15 lead into halftime. Sasser scored nine of his 19 first-half points during the run.
The Cardinals got no closer than 15 in the second half.
Lamar: The Cardinals shot 20% from the field in the first half and went the final 6 1/2 minutes without a field goal. Lamar, which was picked to finish fifth in the Southland Conference, hung with the Cougars for most of the first half, but Houston’s size and athleticism were too much.
“We have to play every possession,” Price said. “We have to get tough on the glass, and then we have to be able to execute our offense. We haven’t been able to practice against man defense because we never had 10 guys in practice, but we can sit here and make excuses or we can make progress.”
Houston: The Cougars were playing without preseason American Athletic Conference player of the year Caleb Mills, who sat with an injury. Houston forced 22 turnovers and eight blocks and had a 37-9 advantage in bench points.
Sampson said Mills could have played, but he had made the decision earlier in the week to sit the sophomore.
Sampson notched his 640th career win, moving him into a tie for 44th on in NCAA history with Homer Drew. Sampson is one win behind Billy Tubbs. Sampson also coached his 200th game at Houston and is 140-60 with the Cougars.
Lamar plays at Tulane on Friday.
Houston hosts Boise State on Friday.
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