Northwestern State can’t handle early surge from No. 15 Houston in loss

Houston flexed its defensive muscle and sharp-shooting accuracy Tuesday, dropping 60 first-half points en route to a 99-58 defeat of Northwestern State.

Marcus Sasser drained three 3-pointers in the four minutes and made seven from distance in the first half for the No. 15 Cougars (6-1). Sasser scored 23 of his game-high 26 in the first half.

Only Tulsa’s Jeriah Horne (28 points) has scored more points against NSU (1-7) in a full game this season than Sasser had in the first half.

“Our turnovers were frustrating, and we finished with 21 of them,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “Houston pounded us on the boards partly because we started leaking out down the floor thinking one of our guys was going to get the ball.

“We have to finish plays. The epitome of the first half was when Houston got a rebound and scored at the buzzer because we didn’t play through the horn. We finished plays against Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, but we didn’t finish tonight.”

NSU freshman Emareyon McDonald more than doubled his previous career high with 17 points, including 10 in the first half. McDonald made three 3-pointers and shot 4-of-9 overall with three assists and three steals.

The Cougars, who shoot 38 percent from deep this season, nailed 11 of 22 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14.

Houston used its gritty man-to-man defense to cash in 22 points off 14 NSU turnovers and turned 12 offensive rebounds in 12 second-chance points. The Cougars finished with 32 points off 21 NSU mistakes.

Sasser’s dead-eye performance early set the tone for Houston’s early 12-3 edge in the opening minutes, a lead that ballooned to 15 points (22-7) just under 12 minutes remaining in the first half.

The Demons struggled offensively in the opening minutes as six turnovers and 3-for-9 shooting set the stage for Houston.

NSU stabilized with six Kendal Coleman points and a 3-pointer from LaTerrance Reed, but Houston dumped 31 points in the final 7:25 of the period to reach 60.

Coleman scored 11 on 5-of-9 shooting, reaching double figures in all eight games this season.

The Demons started the second half in much better form, scoring 14 of the first 21 second-half points in the opening 5:25.

Three-pointers from Cedric Garrett and Zurabi Zhgenti highlighted a 5-of-8 start from the field.

The Demons attacked the basket, particularly in the second half, making a season-high 15 free throws on 19 attempts. NSU had been averaging just six made free throws per game.

NSU outscored Houston for most of the second half before the Cougars piled on late, taking the second half 39-33.

“We did have a lot of positive things happen in the second half, and guys like Zurabi Zhgenti and Jalen King were more aggressive in the second half,” McConathy said. “(McDonald) made all six of his free throws and continues to play well offensively.

“We’ll have to go and work on offensive and defensive execution, especially the way Houston made 3-pointers against our zone, but what can you do. Those guys are on pogo sticks. We’re better than we were two weeks ago.”

Houston had five guys in double figures with Taze Moore (17 points), Tramon Mark (12 points), Jamal Shead (12 points) and Kyler Edwards (10 points) joining Sasser. The Cougars finished shooting 54 percent from the field while NSU shot 38 percent, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range.

The Cougars attempted 23 more shots than NSU thanks to a plus-20 rebounding margin.

NSU heads to Monroe for a rematch with ULM on Saturday, looking to avenge a 30-point loss to the Warhawks on Nov. 22 in Ruston as part of Louisiana Tech’s Lanky Wells Memorial Classic.