It was far from pretty in the second half, but Houston did enough late in Monday’s men’s Elite Eight matchup to knock off Oregon State, 67–61, after squandering a 17-point halftime lead. The win sends Houston to its first Final Four since 1984 and ends Oregon State’s remarkable run through March Madness.
Similar to the Beavers’ Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola Chicago, Oregon State started very slow offensively in this one. It shot just 7 of 20 from the field in the first half and turned it over eight times, allowing Houston to extend a big early lead. Meanwhile, Houston guard Marcus Sasser was hot from the start, knocking down three triples in the opening period to lead the way. A 9–0 Cougar run to close the half gave Houston a 34–17 halftime advantage, which felt insurmountable given its stingy defense.
But the Beavers weren’t ready to end their time in Indianapolis without a fight. Head coach Wayne Tinkle switched OSU into a 1-3-1 zone with forward Warith Alatishe at the top, and the adjustment completely baffled the Houston offense. Oregon State held Houston to just three points over 6:08 of game action shortly after the Beavers switched to the zone, allowing OSU to go on an extended 17–3 run that tied the game at 55 with 3:48 to go.
In the end, Oregon State simply couldn’t keep Houston off the offensive glass. Houston tallied 19 offensive rebounds, including 11 in the second half. Those second chances were backbreaking in the closing minutes: A three by Quentin Grimes off an offensive rebound gave Houston back the lead, and two other possessions in the final three minutes of game action saw Houston get three shots up.
Sasser led all scorers with 20 points, while Grimes added 18 for Houston. The Cougars won despite shooting a season-low 32.3% from the field thanks to the 19 offensive rebounds. Now, Houston returns to the Final Four for the first time since the “Phi Slama Jama” Cougars, who reached back-to-back national title games in 1983 and 1984. The program fell on hard times after though, reaching the men’s NCAA tournament just once in in the 22 seasons prior to Kelvin Sampson taking over the program in 2014.
Meanwhile, the miracle run for Oregon State comes to a close after the Beavers stunned everyone by just making the NCAA tournament. OSU needed a missed free throw in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 quarterfinals to keep its season alive, then rattled off two more wins on back-to-back days to win the Pac-12 tournament and punch its ticket to March Madness. The Beavers then knocked off Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago to come with one win of their first Final Four since 1963.
Houston becomes the first team ever to punch its ticket to the Final Four by winning four games against double-digit seeds. The Cougars will play either Baylor or Arkansas on Saturday night.