Houston ruined his title hopes by playing Marcus Sasser before he was ready

That backfired spectacularly.

Just five days after Marcus Sasser pulled his groin in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament, he was back on the Cougars starting lineup Thursday night. For a first round match against a No. 16 team.

To a surprise to almost no one, Sasser didn’t even make it to halftime. Now, top-seeded Houston may not make it to the second weekend, let alone the Final Four in his hometown.

“I trust Marcus and I trust our coach. I’ll leave those (game) decisions up to them,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “He wanted to try because he thought he was high enough to walk.”

Wrong answer!

Samson is the coach. It is his job to make decisions in the best interest of his team. Sampson is also the adult. It is their responsibility to intervene when a teenager or 20-year-old is doing something reckless or naïve.

In both cases he failed. And the Cougars could pay for his stunning stupidity with their title claims.

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Sasser said the decision on whether to play on Saturday will depend on how much pain he can take. Even if he plays, there’s no guarantee how long he’ll last – in this game or any other. If there are others.

Houston needs Sasser to hit a deep run in the tournament. He is UK Player of the Year and leads Houston in averaging more than 17 points per game.

But the Cougars didn’t need Sasser in a game against a number 16.

Houston's Marcus Sasser aggravated his groin injury late in the first half.

Houston’s Marcus Sasser aggravated his groin injury late in the first half.

For those in need of a refresher, like Sampson apparently, a 16-seeded No. 1 has only beaten once since the men’s tournament began seeding teams more than 40 years ago. As troublesome as Northern Kentucky was, the chances of the Northmen beating Houston were infinitesimal. Certainly less than the odds of Sasser pinching his groin, an injury notoriously slow to heal and just as easy to aggravate.

In fact, Sasser hobbled onto the Houston bench with less than 90 seconds left in the first half. He looked distressed as he simply slid into the seat, and Houston coaches were quick to re-wrap his leg. When the Cougars came out for the second half, Sasser was warming up.

He had “exacerbated his groin injury,” the school said. The pain was “about a seven” Said Sasser afterwards.

“I didn’t know Marcus was going to play this morning,” said Sampson. “And I would have been fine if he hadn’t played.”

Why did he do it?

Of course, Sasser wanted to play Thursday night. Any athlete would do that, and that goes double for a senior who missed last year’s NCAA tournament through an injury. Therefore, people with clearer heads had to assert themselves.

Sasser didn’t play in the AAC tournament finals and Sampson said he couldn’t practice Monday or Tuesday. I don’t care if coaches, doctors, and witch doctors worked 24/7 on Sasser, you’re not risking him in a game these low stakes.

Especially when you know that next up is a frenetic Auburn squad that will have home field advantage. Saturday night’s second-round game between Houston and the Tigers will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, just two hours from Auburn’s campus.

“Good for them. This is a great break,” Sampson said. “We have much more pressing matters to attend to. We need to see how many healthy bodies we have right now.”

And whose fault is that?

Had Sasser sat Thursday night, he would have had a full week to recover before the Auburn game. Now he will be limited at best.

Houston and Sasser have had a great run this season that seemed destined to take them back to the Final Four. That probably won’t happen now, and the cougars have no one to blame but themselves.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Houston played by playing Marcus Sasser. It may cost Cougars a title.


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