Quentin Grimes scored 18 points and Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tied John Wooden on the career victories list as the Cougars beat 15th-seeded Cleveland State 87-56 in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Sampson earned his 664th win, No. 38 all-time, in his first game at Assembly Hall since resigning as Indiana’s coach in February 2008.
No. 2 seed Houston has won eight straight and will face 10th-seeded Rutgers in the Midwest Region’s second round on Sunday. It’s unclear if starting guard DeJon Jarreau will be available after he missed all but 41 seconds with a hip pointer.
“DeJon has been our MVP this season,” Sampson said. “Quentin has been our best player but DeJon has been our most important player and I think doing this tonight will give us some confidence going forward.”
Tramon Mark added 15 points in place of Jarreau and Marcus Sasser finished with 14 for Houston (25-3).
D’Moi Hodge scored 11 points and Torrey Patton had eight points and eight rebounds for the Vikings (19-9). Cleveland State had won at least one game in each of its two previous tourney appearances, beating Indiana (1986) and Wake Forest (2009).
Hanging with Houston, No. 6 in the AP poll, was simply too much to ask — even on a neutral court that had at least a measure of tournament atmosphere. Fans gathered early in the concourse, took photos of statues, lined up for concessions and some brought signs.
“That’s a one seed, I’m telling you,” Vikings coach Dennis Gates said. “They can score the basketball in every which way possible. They do a great job defensively of not fouling. We didn’t play our very best but that was because of the University of Houston. They put us on our heels.”
Grimes’ basket to end the first half gave the Cougars a 37-29 lead and they opened the second half on a 12-2 run, holding the Vikings to just one basket over the first five minutes.
“Rebounding and defense set the tone for the second half,” Grimes said. “Coach emphasized some guys weren’t getting rebounds, we had some mistakes we were making and when we corrected those that’s when we started to take off.”
Cleveland State was 5 of 19 from the field after halftime.
Houston is in its third straight tourney — its longest streak since 1982-84, when the team dubbed Phi Slama Jama lost in back-to-back title games.
Cleveland State: The Vikings were overmatched. They played hard and fought valiantly for a half — but they were outrebounded 38-24, committed too many fouls and lacked the depth to stay with the Cougars. Walk-on Ben Sternberg brought some joy to the Vikings bench by making two late free throws.
Houston: The loss of Jarreau and Mack’s early foul trouble created some difficulties for the Cougars. But they still look like a team capable of making a deep run — if they’re healthy.
Jarreau, a fifth-year senior, spent most of the game grimacing in pain while wearing an ice pack on his right hip. He earned second-team all-conference honors and was named the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. “A hip pointer for him will be a little more severe than for me or you,” Sampson said.
TEXAS HOLD ’EM
Three Texas teams held serve at Assembly Hall during the first two days of the tourney. Texas Southern drew an ace in a First Four victory Thursday. Texas Tech made it a pair by beating Utah State in the early game Friday and the Cougars made it three of a kind with Friday night’s victory. No Texas teams are scheduled to play in Bloomington on Saturday and tourney games after the first round will be played in Indianapolis.