No. 3 Houston to throw tough defense at Saint Joseph’s

Third-ranked Houston will look to continue to show why it owns its highest preseason ranking since the 1983-84 season when the Cougars face Saint Joseph’s in the Veterans Classic on Friday in Annapolis, Md.

The Cougars dominated visiting Northern Colorado in a season-opening, 83-36 win on Monday.

Marcus Sasser, whose toe injury forced him to be sidelined for the second half last season — including the Cougars’ run to the Elite Eight, showed why he’s a preseason All-American. He scored a game-high 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, to go along with four steals and three assists.

J’Wan Roberts had 12 points and six rebounds, while Emanuel Sharp scored 11 points. Jamal Shead had nine points and nine assists, and five-star freshman forward Jarace Walker chipped in eight points and 12 rebounds.

Houston shot 32-for-72 (44.4 percent) from the field, including 11-for-29 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range, and outrebounded the Bears 43-31. Defensively, the Cougars scored 27 points off 23 Bears’ turnovers and held Northern Colorado to shoot 10 for 39 (25.6 percent) from the field.

“Everything we do is accountability,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the 700th win of his career, the past 200 coming with the Cougars. “I do not say that’s OK. There is accountability. Our standards, our expectations, our accountability. It starts with our defense. We’re not always going to shoot well. That’s OK. Most teams don’t shoot well against us either.”

The 13 first-half points Houston allowed were the second-fewest the Cougars yielded in a half in school history. Houston held UConn to 12 first-half points in a 62-46 win on Dec. 28, 2016.

“We always have a game plan defensively. We hang our hat on defense here,” Sampson said. “We have three things that have allowed us to be successful year in and year out. Those three things are: we defend, we rebound and we take care of the ball.”

Houston was also ranked No. 3 in the AP poll to open the 1983-84 season, which ended with the Cougars losing to Georgetown in the national championship game. The Cougars’ best preseason ranking is No. 2, achieved prior to the 1967-68 season.

Saint Joseph’s, which defeated Widener 92-80 win an exhibition last week, formally will open its season against the Cougars.

The Hawks went 11-19 last season, with their 11 wins equaling their total for the previous two seasons combined. Saint Joseph’s hasn’t had a winning season since going 28-8 in 2015-16, the last time it reached the NCAA Tournament.

“I could not be more excited about the group that is in front of us right now,” Saint Joseph’s coach Billy Lange said. “How we got here is not what I’m focused on.”

The Hawks are counting on increased production from guard Erik Reynolds II (12.1 ppg, 2.3 apg), as well as center Ejike Obinna (12.1 ppg, team-high 7.9 rpg), guard Cameron Brown (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and forward Kacper Klaczek (1.5 ppg).

Lynn Greer transferred from Dayton, with which he averaged 2.7 points and 1.3 assists per game last season.

“The ceiling is high for this group,” said Brown, who scored a team-high 22 points in the exhibition win. “We can be as good as we let ourselves be.”

–Field Level Media