Carlton scores 20 as No. 13 Houston beats Texas State 80-47

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON- Josh Carlton scored a season-high 20 points, Kyler Edwards added 14 and No. 13 Houston defeated Texas State 80-47 on Wednesday night.

Marcus Sasser had 13 points and Jamal Shead finished with 12 points and 10 assists for Houston (11-2). The Cougars shot 55%, including 13 of 28 on 3-pointers, in winning for the seventh time in eight games.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said the game plan was to use Carlton’s size in the low post and take advantage of the mismatch.

“Our best player is Marcus,” Sampson said. “We are going to play through Marcus. We’re going to play through Josh. And then, in the open court, we don’t set traditional screens for Jamal. I thought our screening angles were really good. Our details were really good. Our discipline was good.”

Houston, which has won 33 straight home games, outrebounded the Bobcats 31-26 and held a 36-16 advantage in the paint.

“These kinds of games is what our culture is all about,” Sampson said. “We get these games before Christmas, the kids are looking forward to the break and they don’t focus on taking care of business or the matter at hand. . I just loved the way we prepared Monday and Tuesday. We had a great film session last night. We had tremendous prep today.”

Shelby Adams scored 10 points, Nighael Ceaser added nine and Isiah Small had eight for Texas State (9-3), which had won eight in a row. The Bobcats shot 40% and were held to a season low in points.

“Certainly, them with their size disrupted our flow, and then, we haven’t traditionally shot the ball well here in recent years,” Texas State coach Terrence Johnson said. “Tonight was no different.”

Houston, which never trailed, used a 17-2 run over a five-minute span of the first half to take a 29-10 lead on a 3-pointer by Shead with eight minutes left. Shead and Sasser each had six points in the spurt.

Houston led 45-22 at halftime behind 14 points from Carlton.

“When you play against a team like Houston, physicality is going to weigh on you a little bit,” Johnson said. “We tried to come out and be a little bit aggressive. They did a really good job of making adjustments. One of the key components of the game was their ability to score the ball on the low block early on, and that opened up 3-pointers.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas State: The Bobcats could not match up with Houston’s size and presence in the paint. Texas State came out fast in both halves but could not maintain the pace. . The Bobcats got 21 points from their bench.

Houston: The Cougars won their fourth straight over Texas State and improved to 10-0 in Houston against the Bobcats. . Houston forced Texas State into 19 turnovers, which the Cougars turned into 23 points. Houston committed eight turnovers. . Edwards left midway through the second half with a sprained ankle, Sampson said.

MARK HAS SURGERY

Houston sophomore guard Tramon Mark underwent left shoulder surgery and will sit out the remainder of the season as he recovers, the school announced. Mark, who has been a key reserve for the Cougars, averaged 10 points in seven games this season.

UP NEXT

Texas State: Hosts Troy on Dec. 30 to begin Sun Belt Conference play.

Houston: Hosts Cincinnati on Tuesday to start American Athletic Conference play.

Wisconsin holds off No. 12 Houston with 65-63 upset

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LAS VEGAS – No. 12 Houston scored the first 17 points against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational on Monday, and then allowed Wisconsin to score the first 13 points en route to a 20-point halftime deficit in Tuesday’s semifinal.

It cost the Cougars in the long run, as Johnny Davis scored a career-high 30 points to lead Wisconsin past Houston 65-63.

The Cougars cut Wisconsin’s lead to two on Kyler Edwards’ 3-pointer with 40 seconds left. With the final possession, Jamal Shead drove baseline and passed to Edwards, who wasn’t expecting the feed, costing the Cougars a chance at a final attempt.

“Looking back, I’m kind of glad this did happened so we can learn how to finish a game down the stretch,” Wisconsin coach Gary Gard said. “I think it was just a great experience for these guys.”

Davis finished 10 of 18 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and was 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.

Tyler Wahl chipped in with nine points and seven rebounds, while Brad Davison also had nine points for the Badgers (4-1).

Houston (4-1) was led by Edwards, who had 18 points – 15 in the second half via five 3-pointers – while Marcus Sasser added 11.

Sasser had a chance to tie it with 47 seconds left, but his attempt clanked off the rim to Davis, who was fouled immediately and drained two free throws to push Wisconsin’s lead back to five, 65-60.

Davis sparked the Badgers early, scoring 11 of their first 16 points. The savvy sophomore was red hot from long range inside the first six minutes of the game, draining three 3-pointers to spark a 16-4 run.

“We did a really good job of sharing the ball,” Davis said. “We really needed to come out fast, especially against these guys. They’re one of those teams where if you get down they’ll just bury you.”

Houston, which averages 23 points off turnovers, had just two in the first half as it failed to create pressure on the Badgers to disrupt their offense.

Wisconsin’s offense helped their defense by shooting better than 60% early in the game and forcing Houston to take the ball from the net and out on the baseline, rather than moving in transition, something the defensively minded Cougars generally thrive on.

Instead, it was Wisconsin doing a good job in taking away Houston’s main offensive threat by shutting down Sasser, who is averaging 20 points per game. He had three points and four turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

“They were 20 points better than us in the first half, we were 18 points better than them in the second half,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I’m a little bit surprised at how we played the first half. We weren’t competitive, not a lot of emotion on defense.”

BADGER D

Wisconsin, which has led the Big Ten in scoring defense under Gard four of the last six years, came into the game allowing a Big Ten-best 53.8 points per game, which ranks 14th in the nation. The Badgers held Houston to its lowest offensive output of the season. The Cougars scored 63 or fewer just five times last season, going 3-2 in those games.

MAKE YOUR SHOTS

After going 4 of 5 from the free-throw line in the first half, the Cougars were just 4 of 10 in the second half, missing 6 of 7 during one stretch. Wisconsin, meanwhile, made 10 of 11 from the charity stripe in the second half and finished 12 of 15 for the game.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have become accustomed to the non-conference November tournament grind, having competed in one in 14 of the last 16 years. With Tuesday’s win, the Badgers are 25-12 (.667) in those games. Wisconsin is now 7-4 all-time in the Maui Invitational

Houston: Tramon Mark, who was expected to be a starter this season, has contributed nicely in his first two games back after recovering from a left shoulder injury. He continued to provide a spark off the bench for the Cougars. After averaging 7.8 points per game last season, the sophomore guard is averaging 6.5 after the first two games of the Maui Invitational.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Faces either Oregon or Saint Mary’s on the final day of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday.

Houston: Faces either Oregon or Saint Mary’s on the final day of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday.

Gonzaga, UCLA hold down top poll spots ahead of showdown

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga and UCLA continued their hold on the top two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 college basketball poll on Monday, setting the stage for their highly anticipated showdown this week, while Purdue and Duke barged their way into the top five.

The Bulldogs (4-0) had an easy week with wins over Alcorn State and Bellarmine and received 55 first-place votes from the 61-person medial panel that regularly covers college basketball. The Bruins (4-0) received five first-place votes after blowing out Long Beach State and North Florida last week to head to Las Vegas with some momentum.

Gonzaga played Central Michigan and UCLA faced Bellarmine on Monday night in the Good Sam Empire Classic. Then, the nation’s top two teams will square off Tuesday night in a Final Four rematch of a game won by the Bulldogs in overtime.

“It’s important for everybody if you want to make the NCAA Tournament,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “If you want to accrue a high seed, you have to play really, really good teams. I think it’s important for college basketball.”

Purdue received the only other first-place vote and leapfrogged Kansas into third in the Top 25 following the Boilermakers’ win over then-No. 5 Villanova in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. The Jayhawks were fourth and the Blue Devils were fifth.

Defending national champion Baylor jumped to sixth after running roughshod over Central Arkansas and Stanford, while the Wildcats dropped only to seventh thanks to beating then-No. 12 Tennessee before losing to Purdue. Texas and Memphis were next, with Kentucky and Alabama in a tie for 10th in the second regular-season poll of the season.

The Wildcats and Crimson Tide were followed by Houston, Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee at No. 15.

St. Bonaventure solidified its status as this season’s early mid-major darling by jumping six spots to No. 16 following wins over Clemson and Marquette. Arizona made the biggest leap into the poll at No. 17 after beating Wichita State and romping past then-No. 4 Michigan in the Roman Main Event, followed by another newcomer to the poll in BYU.

“We got good players,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I know we’ve been out of the limelight; maybe a little bit of that’s my fault because I haven’t been looking for it. But you know what? We’re here now. And we belong.”

Auburn and Michigan rounded out the top 20 with Seton Hall, UConn, Florida, USC and Xavier completing the poll.

“This is where we are as a program,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose Pirates beat the Wolverines last week for their first win over a top-five nonconference team on the road. “We can play with anybody in the country and we have done that in the last seven years.”

CONFERENCE CALL

SEC – 6 (Nos. 10, 10 tie, 13, 15, 19, 23)

Big East – 4 (Nos. 7, 21, 22, 25)

Big 10 – 3 (Nos. 3, 14, 20)

Big 12 – 3 (Nos. 4, 6, 8)

Pac-12 – 3 (Nos. 2, 17, 24)

American – 2 (Nos. 9, 12)

West Coast – 2 (Nos. 1, 18)

ACC – 1 (No. 5)

Atlantic 10 – 1 (No. 16)

UP AND DOWN

Purdue and Baylor moved up three spots within the top 10, and Alabama move up four spots to forge a tie with SEC rival Kentucky. The biggest drop came with Michigan, which was fourth before a pair of losses sent coach Juwan Howard’s crew tumbling all the way to No. 20.

“We’re going to get better, and I trust we will,” said Howard, whose team has another tough test with North Carolina on Dec. 1. “It’s part of the game: adversity. Adversity hits, it defines the man, or how he responds the next time.”

IN AND OUT

Arizona would have come in at No. 31 last week and debuted in the poll at No. 17 this week, while BYU would have been 29th a week ago and entered the poll at No. 18. Seton Hall would have been 38th a week ago and came in at No. 21, while Xavier gave the poll four newcomers this week.

Oregon went from No. 12 to the first team out. Ohio State, North Carolina and Maryland also fell out.

White helps No. 12 Houston knock off Butler 70-52 in Vegas

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS- Houston did not give Butler an inch in a dominating defensive first half, looking every bit like a team ready to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.

Playing with a big lead, the Cougars backed off a bit and needed time to rev it up again.

A lopsided win, just not as complete as it could have been.

Fabian White Jr. scored 21 points and No. 12 Houston rode a dominating first half to a 70-52 win over Butler Monday in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.

“We’re a good defensive team but the challenge is doing it for 40 minutes,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I felt we let go of the rope a little bit in the second half.”

The Cougars (4-0) overwhelmed Butler early, scoring the game’s first 17 points while building a 21-point halftime lead. They weren’t quite as locked in at either end of the floor to start the second half, allowing the Bulldogs (3-2) to creep back in it before pulling away down the stretch.

Next up for Houston is a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against Wisconsin.

“We won today, but we don’t really gloat on it and stay on it,” said Houston’s Jamal Shead, who had eight points. “Just try to move on and get to the next stage, the next round, and focus on Wisconsin.”

Butler had some good moments to start the second half. The rest of it was a bit shaky, thanks to Houston’s defense.

Bryce Bolden had 16 points for Butler, which had 20 turnovers that led to 27 Houston points.

“I thought we showed some good fight in the second half that little stretch there, probably eight to 10 minutes where it looked like Butler basketball on both ends of the court,” coach Lavall Jordan said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get that from the beginning.”

Houston lost four key players from last year’s Final Four team, including third-team Associated Press All-America guard Quentin Grimes.

Sampson filled the holes with quality transfers to play alongside a solid returning core. The new-look Cougars have shown they can still D it up: They forced 17 turnovers and held Virginia to 47 points in a 20-point win last week.

They made life even more difficult on Butler.

Houston was locked in defensively from the opening tip, with quick hands filling passing lanes and nimble feet rotating bodies in front of Butler ballhandlers.

The Bulldogs had a hard time getting around or shooting over the long-armed Cougars, repeatedly hoisting up contested shots as the shot clock ticked down. Butler needed 6:21 to hit its first basket and trailed 41-20 at halftime.

“Coming out of the gates, obviously the physicality on the defensive end, that set a tone for the game and had us on our heels,” Jordan said.

Butler threw a stick into the spokes of Houston’s well-oiled machine to start the half, flummoxing the Cougars with a more aggressive defense.

The Bulldogs held Houston without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes, trimming the lead 44-32, but couldn’t sustain it. Houston stretched the lead back to 24 and cruised into the semifinals from there.

BIG PICTURE

Houston, which made the Final Four last season, looked like a team that could make another deep March run in the first half. A sloppy second half showed the Cougars still have plenty of work to do.

Butler was able to muck up the game in the second half, but an ugly first half put the Bulldogs in too deep of a hole to make it competitive.

MARK RETURNS

Houston sophomore guard Tramon Mark saw his first action of the season after missing the first three games with a shoulder injury.

Mark was a key reserve in Houston’s Final Four run last season, playing about 20 minutes per game while averaging 7.8 points per game. He played 17 minutes against Butler, finishing with five points on 2-of-6 shooting.

“He’ll get better as he goes and so will our team,” Sampson said. “Sometimes less is more. … The first three games we only played four guards, so tonight just adding him kind of threw everybody’s time off. They’re used to just coming in for each other but now we added another guard.”

UP NEXT

Houston plays Wisconsin in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Butler faces Texas A&M in the loser’s bracket Tuesday.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in preseason AP Top 25; UCLA, Kansas next

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga carried a No. 1 ranking all last season before falling a win short of becoming college basketball’s first unbeaten national champion in 45 years.

Mark Few’s Bulldogs start this season in the same position, hoping to complete that final step this time around.

The Zags were the runaway top choice in The Associated Press Top 25 men’s college basketball preseason poll released Monday. They earned 55 of 63 first-place votes to easily outdistance No. 2 UCLA, which earned the other eight. Kansas, Villanova and Texas rounded out the top five, while reigning national champion Baylor checked in at No. 8.

The Zags have accomplished just about every milestone possible in 23 years under Few other than cutting down the nets on the final Monday night of the season. They came close to completing the first unbeaten run since 1976 last year with a wire-to-wire No. 1 team, only to fall to the Bears in a one-sided final in Indianapolis.

Now they’ll try again.

“It is quite an honor to be selected preseason No. 1 for the second consecutive year,” Few said in a statement to the AP. “Our returning players realize the challenge of playing up to that level all year and look forward to it.”

Gonzaga lost AP All-Americans Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs to the NBA, but second-team selection Drew Timme (19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds) and starting guard Andrew Nembhard return. The Zags also bring in a top recruiting class featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 7-footer Chet Holmgren and a five-star guard in Hunter Sallis.

Going back to the 2019-20 season, the Zags have now been ranked in the top three for 32 straight polls, with 22 of those at No. 1.

THE TOP TIER

Third-year coach Mick Cronin has UCLA on a fast climb.

Leading scorer Johnny Juzang (16.0 ppg) headlines a Bruins roster that returns nearly intact after last year’s run from the First Four to the Final Four, where they lost to Gonzaga on a half-court shot in an overtime classic.

They are starting with their first top-10 preseason ranking since 2009 and their first top-10 ranking in any AP poll since spending 13 weeks there during the 2016-17 season.

“If we taught anybody anything last year,” Cronin said this month, “your seed or your ranking does not matter come tournament time.”

Kansas has the program’s 10th straight preseason top-10 ranking, followed by the Wildcats and Longhorns, who open their first season under Chris Beard with the program’s highest preseason ranking since 2010.

THE CHAMPS

Baylor has a second straight top-10 preseason ranking despite losing four starters from last year’s title winner, including AP All-Americans Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. The Bears will try to join Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) as the only schools to win consecutive titles since UCLA’s run of seven straight from 1967-73.

“As we’ve talked with our team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “we have a unique opportunity.”

BLUEBLOODS BACK?

Duke and Kentucky are starting with their typically high rankings after seasons unlike many in their tradition-rich histories.

The ninth-ranked Blue Devils are playing the final season under retiring Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. They’re coming off a 13-11 season that included missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats are right behind them after a 9-16 season, the program’s first losing record since 1988-89.

Then there’s North Carolina, which made the NCAA Tournament but was inconsistent all season and out of the Top 25 before Christmas. The Tar Heels open at No. 19 in their first season under Hubert Davis, promoted after the retirement of Hall of Famer Roy Williams in April.

WELCOME BACK

St. Bonaventure is ranked for the first time in more than five decades. The Bonnies from the Atlantic 10 are No. 23, marking the first time they have been ranked since January 1971. That season was also the last time the program was ranked in the preseason (No. 20).

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences have a national-best five ranked teams each.

The Big Ten has No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Purdue, No. 11 Illinois, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 21 Maryland. The SEC has No. 14 Alabama, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 22 Auburn joining Kentucky.

The ACC is next up with four, with No. 20 Florida State and No. 25 Virginia joining Duke and UNC. The Big 12 has its Kansas-Texas-Baylor trio, while the Pac-12 (UCLA and No. 13 Oregon), Big East (Villanova and No. 24 Connecticut) and American Athletic Conference (No. 12 Memphis and No. 15 Houston) are the others with multiple Top 25 teams.

WATCH LIST

The top unranked teams are all from power conferences, headlined by Michigan State as the leading vote-getter. Next up is Indiana under first-year coach Mike Woodson, Southern California and Arizona under new coach Tommy Lloyd.

Baylor routs Houston 78-59 to reach title game

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INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly two decades ago, Scott Drew decided to leave his comfort zone at tiny Valparaiso for the scandal-plagued basketball program at Baylor, explaining to his father that there was nowhere for the Bears to go but up.

Now, they’re one win away from the top.

Led by Jared Butler and the rest of their brilliant backcourt, a defense that refused to give Houston an inch, and a coach intent on making the most of his first trip to the Final Four, the Bears roared to a 78-59 victory Saturday night in their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 71 long years.

Butler scored 17 points, but just about everyone from Baylor (27-2) got in on the act. The Bears had five players score in double figures. They built a 45-20 lead by halftime and coasted the rest of the way to their second title game.

They’ll face Gonzaga, the overall No. 1 seed, or upstart UCLA on Monday night for their first national championship.

Marcus Sasser had 20 points for the cold-shooting Cougars (28-4), whose dream path to their first Final Four since 1984 – they faced teams seeded 15th, 10th, 11th and 12th along the way – ended with a whimper against a team focused squarely on this night since the moment last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.

For Drew, the wait had been even longer.

He took over a program 18 years ago embroiled in arguably the biggest controversy in the history of the sport: the graphic shooting death of player Patrick Dennehy, his teammate Devon Dotson pleading guilty to his murder, attempts by then-coach Dave Bliss to cover it all up, and NCAA sanctions that lasted well into Drew’s own tenure.

Yet somehow, the son of longtime Valpo coach Homer Drew always pictured the very scene that unfolded Saturday night: His team playing selflessly, almost effortlessly, never once feeling the pressure of college basketball’s biggest stage.

Well, there were a few things Drew probably didn’t picture.

Instead of 70,000 fans reaching to the rafters, the Bears were cheered in the lower bowl by thousands of cardboard cutouts – from the late Georgetown coach John Thompson to New Mexico State mascot Pistol Pete – due to measures against COVID-19 that have forced them to live in a bubble for the last three weeks.

The roughly 8,000 fans that were allowed through the doors, socially distanced in a vast ocean of blue seats, provided a muted soundtrack to the blowout inside the cavernous home of the Indianapolis Colts.

The only cheering? That came from those in green and gold.

The Bears controlled the game from the jump, unleashing a 14-3 run fueled by the kind of crisp passing, silky shooting and dastardly defense that made them unbeatable before a 23-day COVID-19 pause late in the regular season.

When the Cougars finally scored, the Bears ripped off another 16-3 run, carving up the nation’s top 3-point field-goal defense with ruthless efficiency. Butler scored 11 points during the run, and Mitchell’s back-to-back 3-pointers to end the first half gave the Bears a 45-20 lead that felt insurmountable.

Probably because it just about was.

Sasser did everything he could to keep Houston alive, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 17 himself. But the rest of the Cougars were 1 of 15 from the field, including All-American guard Quentin Grimes (0 for 5) and DeJon Jarreau (1 for 7), who earned MVP honors in the Midwest Region.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose reputation for being a master tactician was stretched to the limit, tried to get the guard-heavy Cougars to forget about the 3-point line and go right to the basket in the second half.

The Cougars cut their deficit to 16 at one point, but there was no coming back on this night.

The big cushion down the stretch gave the Bears – mullet-haired Matthew Mayer, MaCio Teague and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua in their bright pink sneakers, Butler and Mitchell and the rest of their guys lounging on the bench – plenty of time to celebrate the program’s second trip to the national title game.