Freshman guard Marcus Sasser scores 14 points, as the Houston Cougars record their first victory of the new season at the expense of the Alabama State Hornets.

Cougars win big in season opener against Alabama State

Kelvin Sampson. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The University of Houston Men's Basketball team kicked off their 2019-20 season with an 84-56 victory over the Alabama State Hornets Tuesday night inside the Fertitta Center in Houston.

It was an all-around team effort for Houston as five players scored in double figures in the win. Marcus Sasser recorded 14 points shooting 5-for-9 from the floor, 4-for-7 from behind the arc, as the freshman guard led the Cougars in scoring during his debut for Houston.

"I saw a lot of things I like, and a lot of things we have to continue getting better at and keep working on," Cougars Head Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "I thought we did a lot of things pretty good. At one point, I was sitting there and had to remind myself, 'you have to be patient with this bunch.' We have a lot of young guys out there."

Fabian White scored a layup on the opening tip to put the Cougars on the board for the first time in the new season. The layup that was scored by the junior forward capped off an early 13-2 run for Houston.

What looked to be an early blowout in the first six minutes quickly turned into a competitive game, due to the Cougars' inability to stop the Hornets' hot 3-point shooting. Alabama State shot 6-for-13 (46.2%) from behind the arc in the first half, and once cut their 16 point deficit down to nine.

Following a timeout by Sampson, the Cougars ended the first half on a 10-3 run, which gave way to a 41-25 lead into the break. After a slow start to the game, reigning AAC Sixth Man of the Year winner, DeJon Jarreau, got into a rhythm in the second half to provide some much-needed offense for the Cougars. He scored seven of his 11 points early in the second period to help Houston gain a 21 point advantage.

Although the Cougars shot 52% from the field, a large portion of their second-half surge came as a result of their defense. After allowing the Hornets to hit six triples in the first half, Houston's defense held Alabama State to one 3-point field goal in the second, as they shot 12.5% from deep.

"They hit some tough shots and scored most of them out of our 1-2 defense," Sampson said. "We were not recovering to them fast enough, and they were getting some wide-open looks. Once we adjusted to man-to-man defense, they [Alabama State] were no longer getting those wide-open looks."

In his first official game after transferring from Kansas, sophomore guard Quentin Grimes had a solid debut with 13 points and five rebounds in the win. Junior forward Justin Gorham recorded 11 points, four rebounds and a steal nearly two years since his last college game.

"It was good," Gorham said. "I felt that the Italy trip this past summer helped a lot. But coming out here playing in front of the fans and buying into the culture, I knew my game was going to take care of itself."

Following the win against the Hornets, the Houston Cougars will return to the court on Friday, when they host the BYU Cougars inside the Fertitta Center in Houston. Tip-off is slated for 7 P.M.

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After a "qualifying round" of playoffs, the actual Stanley Cup playoffs are here. In a weird hockey world that saw two 12 seeds win in round one and the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference finish last in the round robin and get a four seed, things appear wide open. The lower seeds may actually have a bit of an advantage at the beginning of these series, as they have already gone through an actual elimination round, while the top four seeds played a less intense round robin. As teams still adjust to a long layoff, more upsets could be in order. It should be fun. Here is a look at the matchups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Flyers were dominant in the round-robin phase and look very much like a team that can make a deep run. Montreal was the lowest seed in the qualifying tournament, but stunned Pittsburgh, and were the better team throughout the series. Philly, however, is playing much better hockey than their Pennsylvania counterparts. The Canadiens will need a big effort from goalie Carey Price, who is capable of stealing games. Young Flyers goalie Carter Hart was outstanding in the two round-robin games he played and is an emerging star. Philly has more talent, but a goalie like Price can win a series.

Prediction: Flyers in 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Tampa is as talented a group as you will find in the NHL. They have depth on all lines, terrific defensemen and an elite goalie. Yet they have a checkered playoff past. Last season, they were dominant in the regular season and looked like a Cup lock. They were promptly swept out of the first round by the Jackets. Columbus outplayed a similarly talented team in Toronto in round one and are a tough matchup. Can the Lightning be struck down twice? Absolutely.

Prediction: Jackets in 7.

Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Islanders (6)

The Caps still have Alex Ovechkin and a recent Stanley Cup, and have to be considered a contender against whoever they play. But the Isles play terrific defense, grind you down and get just enough scoring to win games. Plus they have the coach who won the Cup with the Caps, Barry Trotz, which gives them another edge. The Isles are a long shot Cup contender and could pull off the upset.

Prediction: Islanders in 7.

Boston Bruins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5)

The Bruins were the best team in the league in the regular season, but played flat in the round robin, winding up with a fourth seed. It seems a little unfair that they dominated all year but three games determined their fate, but that's life. By now they should have figured things out again and should be able to advance. They are a tricky team, because if they play as poorly as they did last week, Carolina could knock them out. But the Bruins should get better the deeper they get in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have a rising star in Andrei Svechnikov, who had a hat trick in the first round against the Rangers. The Bruins, however, are deeper, more talented and have the more tested and reliable goalie in Tukka Rask.

Prediction: Bruins in 5.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Las Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)

The Golden Knights were impressive in the round-robin, and looked like they did not miss a beat from the break. They were on a 8-2 run before the Rona interruption and swept the three seeding games since. But the Blackhawks are a scary matchup. They dominated Edmonton in the play-in round, winning 3-1 despite being the last team to qualify. They are young and shaky on defense, but still have proven Cup winners like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford. It would be foolish to count them out, but the Oilers were a much better matchup for the Hawks. If Crawford dominates in net, they have a fighting chance. But the Knights are on a different level right now.

Prediction: Las Vegas in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7)

This might be one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. The Avs look like a Cup contender, and Nathan MacKinnon is an MVP candidate and might be one of the most underappreciated superstars in the league. The Coyotes, however, are going to be a tough out. Goalie Darcy Kempner faced a ton of shots against the Predators and held up well. He will have to do the same here. Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel provide top end forward play, and Arizona matches up OK here. The Avs should win, but don't be shocked if they are pushed hard.

Prediction: Avs in 6.

Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (6)

Dallas is an interesting team. The Stars have Stanley Cup-level talent, but they struggle to score at times, which could be a problem in a seven-game series. They play strong D and have great goaltending, but have issues with quicker teams, which bodes well for Calgary. The Flames are also a bit of an enigma, but they seem built for the playoffs. They have two young American-born stars in Johnny Gaudreu and Matthew Tkachuk, solid depth up front and on the back end and can hold their own with most teams. Cam Talbot is the key, however. If he can consistently man the goal the way he did in the series win over Winnipeg, they have a big shot. He finished off the series with a 31-save shutout.

Prediction: Flames in 7.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)

The defending champs were not very good in the round-robin, hence the four seed. But it will probably work out; the Canucks are an easier matchup than what they would have faced with Calgary as a 3 seed. Vancouver is an interesting young team. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are two up and coming stars, but the rest of the lineup is bolstered by gritty vets. Defensemen Quinn Hughes is another young star in the making. Goalie Jacob Markstrom was solid against Minnesota, but he will need to be better in this round. The Canucks could have made a run against Dallas, but hard to see them beating the champs.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

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