FORT WORTH — East Carolina stayed with No. 1 Houston for the first half of their quarterfinal matchup in the American Athletic Conference tournament before the Cougars pulled away to a 60-46 win at Dickies Arena on Wednesday.
ECU (16-17) trailed 23-21 after 20 minutes as freshman Ezra Ausar fueled the Pirates with 12 points and 10 rebounds before intermission. Ausar finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds.
The Cougars (30-2) went on an 11-3 run to start the second half and suppress ECU’s aims for an upset.
“They’re a championship program in every sense of the word from top to bottom,” said Pirates coach Mike Schwartz of Houston. “Whether it be in this conference or the Big 12 next year, just an incredible standard of a program to try and emulate and they did it again today. …
“That was clearly the difference, the first four to six minutes of the second half, because of their intensity.”
Marcus Sasser had 30 points on nine for 15 field goal shooting for the Cougars. He was four for nine from beyond the arc and made all eight of his free throws. Jamal Shead added 12 points for Houston and J’Wan Roberts had 12 rebounds.
ECU had a 42-41 rebounding advantage as Ausar controlled a career high.
“Obviously, a great performance in terms of what he did fighting some of the very best frontcourt players in the country,” Schwartz said. “As a unit, we know how dynamic they are in the frontcourt — scoring, rebounding and defense. For a freshman to come out and get 19 rebounds. … This is his best rebounding performance.”
R.J. Felton had eight points for ECU. Brandon Johnson and Quentin Diboundje had seven points each. Jaden Walker and Ludgy Debaut added three points apiece. Walker had six assists.
Ausar made six of 10 field goal attempts, but the rest of the team was 10 for 41, 24.3 percent.
The Pirates made just three of 19 from long range, 15.7 percent.