For the first time since 1984, the No. 2 Houston Cougars are heading to the Final Four, becoming the first team in the 2021 NCAA men's tournament to clinch a berth after defeating No. 12 Oregon State, 67-61, at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday.
The Cougars ran through No. 15 Cleveland State, No. 10 Rutgers and No. 11 Syracuse before downing the Beavers, becoming the first team ever to play four double-digit seeds in a single tournament.
Houston will now face the winner of No. 1 Baylor and No. 3 Arkansas in the national semifinal for the right to play for the title next Monday night. After racing out to a 34-17 halftime lead against Oregon State, the Cougars left no doubt that they belong in the Final Four.
One half later, they were cutting down the nets for what's potentially the first of many times over the next week.
Quentin Grimes, G, Houston Cougars: 18 points, 4 assists
Marcus Sasser, G, Houston Cougars: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 5 three-pointers
Maurice Calloo, F, Oregon State Beavers: 13 points, 5 rebounds
Ethan Thompson, G, Oregon State Beavers: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Beavers Comeback Falls Short
Oregon State nearly pulled off one of the most absurd comebacks of the tournament. Maybe with another minute or two on the clock, the Beavers are able to finish it off. Either way, if not for clutch free-throw shooting and solid inbounding players, Houston might not be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis on Monday.
After the Cougars jumped out to a 34-17 halftime lead—OSU spent the last 10 minutes of regulation chipping away until a wild series of events made it a tie game with less than four minutes to play.
The Beavers took off on a 14-3 run that they punctuated with a dunk from Warith Alatishe to cut the deficit to 55-52. The ensuing Houston possession saw the Cougars bank in a three-pointer, only to be called back for a shot-clock violation. Oregon State took advantage immediately with a three of its own from Gianni Hunt to knot things up at 55 apiece.
Thus began the final 3:48 of regulation and a mad scramble by Houston to regain the lead.
The Cougars were only able to do so because of clutch free-throw shooting (16-of-24) down the stretch and a horribly timed mistake by Oregon State.
After going nearly the entire half without committing a turnover, the Beavers finally cracked when Ethan Thompson had the ball roll off his fingertips on a drive to the rim with 48 seconds left and trailing by five. Oregon State had no choice but to foul, giving Houston a chance to create separation at the line, which the Cougars gladly took advantage of.
It's not often—if ever—a Power Five program takes a turn as Cinderella, but there's no question the Beavers deserved that honor this March. After being picked last in the Pac-12, Oregon State won three games in three days to claim the Pac 12 championship title and clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament. Head coach Wayne Tinkle got his team past No. 5 Tennessee, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Loyola Chicago.
They came up just short against one of the top teams in the country.
Sasser's Shooting Powers Houston
Marcus Sasser outscored Oregon State's entire starting lineup in the first half 11-7, he led the game with 20 points, and all five makes of his 19 field-goal attempts came from behind the arc.
A 35.2 percent three-point shooter throughout the regular season, the Cougars guard had gone 5-of-22 from behind the arc through the first three rounds. On Monday, he matched that production, going 5-of-13 from distance.
He was going to find his rhythm from deep in the tournament both because his team needed him to and because he was skilled enough to make it happen.
On Monday, he showed just how possible it was.
Sasser is leading the Cougars to the Final Four because he had no hesitation when it came to making big shots. Over 34 minutes against Oregon State, Sasser's most important contributions came when he stepped up to the line—whether it was the arc or the charity stripe.
His five three-pointers were a game high, and his 5-of-6 shooting on free throws made sure the Cougars weren't going to lose this one late.
If he can keep shooting the way he did against OSU, Houston will have plenty more nets to cut down in the coming days.
The Final Four begins Saturday with Houston facing either Baylor or Arkansas at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The first semifinal game tips off at 5 p.m. ET on CBS.