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USF flirts with No. 1 upset but can’t finish it off at Houston

The Bulls, behind Tyler Harris’ career-high 31 points, lead the nation’s top-ranked team with 13:38 left, but the Cougars use a 20-4 run en route to an 83-77 win.
USF's Tyler Harris goes up for a shot past Houston's Marcus Sasser during the second half Wednesday.
USF's Tyler Harris goes up for a shot past Houston's Marcus Sasser during the second half Wednesday. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP ]
Published Jan. 12|Updated Jan. 12

HOUSTON — USF has never had a top-five win in program history, but on Wednesday night, the Bulls put a scare into the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.

Marcus Sasser scored a career-high 31, Jamal Shead added 20 points and top-ranked Houston used a huge second half to slip past USF 83-77.

The Bulls (7-10, 0-4 AAC) led 53-48 with 13:38 remaining, but the Cougars (17-1, 5-0) went on a 20-4 run over the next 7½ minutes to open an 11-point lead. Sasser scored 13 during the surge. The Bulls got no closer than six the rest of the way.

USF, which fell to 0-6 all time against No. 1 teams, did not hit a field goal for nearly 8½ minutes in the second half.

“It challenged our guys a little bit in terms of the competitiveness and toughness that you have to play with,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said. “We’re a good team. We’ve had second-half leads in all four games in our league (losses by a combined 21 points). … It’s disappointing where we’re at.”

Sasser scored 25 and Shead 13 as the backcourt mates combined for 38 of Houston’s 46 second-half points. Sasser, a preseason All-American, finished 7-of-17 from the field, including 6-of-12 from 3. In the second half, the duo combined to shoot 10-of-16 from the field and 6-of-11 on 3s for the Cougars, who won their eighth in a row.

Guard Tyler Harris scored a career-high 31 and Russel Tchewa and Jamir Chaplin 14 each for the Bulls, who lost their fourth straight. Harris was 9-of-13 from the field, including 6-of-10 from 3.

“If we can continue to compete at that level throughout the rest of our conference schedule, we’ll get some good results,” Gregory said.

Houston shot 42% and forced USF into 18 turnovers. The Bulls shot 49%, including 10-of-21 from beyond the arc.

“My teammates were telling me it’s time to 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.”

Cougars 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.”

Houston used a 10-0 run for a 37-26 lead with three minutes left in the first half, but the Bulls rallied with a 10-0 burst to end the half and cut the lead to one on a layup by Chaplin.

“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.”

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The Bulls outrebounded Houston 36-30, and they had a 26-22 edge in points in the paint. The 36 first-half points by USF were the most Houston has allowed before halftime this season, and the 77 points allowed was also a season high.

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.

USF’s 72-64 win at No. 7 Georgetown in 2010 remains the highest-ranked victory in program history.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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