BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (KTRK) -- The No. 1 Houston Cougars didn't play their best game on Thursday night, but they avoided an embarrassing 16-versus-1 upset against Northern Kentucky.
The Coogs came out with the 63-52 win despite 17 turnovers and losing star senior Marcus Sasser, who started the game with a nagging groin ailment.
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Sasser played in the first 18 minutes of the close March Madness opening contest before checking out and sitting on the bench with signs of discomfort. The team confirmed he re-aggravated the injury to his groin and would be questionable to return.
Sasser confirmed the injury after the game, rating the pain as "about a 7." He added that it'll be up to him to see how much pain he can tolerate while playing in the next game.
The All-America First-Team selection was a game-time decision closer to the tip-off of the first-round matchup in Birmingham, Alabama. He accounted for five points and two rebounds by the time he left before the halftime break, when Houston led 30-27.
Four Cougars scored in double figures, led by Jarace Walker's 16 points and Jamal Shead's 13 points. Freshman Emanuel Sharp came off the bench to provide a spark and 10 points for the Coogs in place of Sasser, including three makes from beyond the arc.
Fourteen out of 42 ESPN college basketball experts picked the Coogs (31-3) to make it back to Houston for the Final Four, and eight of them believe they can cut down the nets on April 3.
Houston moves on to face the No. 9 Auburn Tigers, who are practically playing in a homecourt game, on Saturday, with a 6:10 p.m. tip-off.
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