Houston gets comfortable in NCAA tourney, routs Georgia St.

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Houston’s DeJon Jarreau dunks the ball during the first half of a first round men’s college basketball game against Georgia State in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 22, 2019, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — It’s beginning to look like old times for Houston in the NCAA Tournament.

Corey Davis scored 26 points to help the third-seeded Cougars beat Georgia State 84-55 in the Midwest Region on Friday night.

After reaching the national final in 1984, Houston went more than three decades without winning an NCAA Tournament game. Now, the Cougars have tourney wins in back-to-back seasons and are starting to resemble the program that has five Final Four appearances and produced stars including Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said it’s too early to worry about his team’s place in history.

“We just want to advance,” he said. “I think, looking back at something means it’s over. We’re not done. We’ve got another game Sunday. This is such a special group of kids in terms of their preparation and leadership. We know what we’re accomplishing. We’re moving toward our goal. Our focus is just to live to fight another day.”

Fabian White had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Breaon Brady added 13 for Houston (32-3), which will face either Iowa State or Ohio State on Sunday.

Houston rolled out to a 15-3 lead in the first five minutes, and the rout was on. The Cougars shot 52 percent to lead 40-31 at halftime, and then opened the second half on a 10-2 run to put the game out of reach.

D’Marcus Simonds scored 18 points for No. 14 seed Georgia State (24-10), which received an automatic bid as the Sun Belt Conference Tournament champion.

Houston held the Panthers to 30-percent shooting, an impressive effort against a squad that entered averaging 75 points per game.

“We are not sad. We are not mad,” Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said. “We did not play well, but that’s due to Houston. I cannot tell you how proud I am of our basketball team and what these guys accomplished.”

Hunter couldn’t lead his Panthers to an upset like their stunner over Baylor in 2015, but he said that takes nothing from the season or his program’s future.

“Eight years ago, I walked into a program that had eight or nine straight losing seasons, and now we’ve been to the tournament three out of five years,” he said. “We’ve talked about making this a national program and we think we are a national program.”

BIG PICTURE

Georgia State: Hunter has a rebuilding job ahead. Simonds, the team’s top scorer, said he’s likely leaving for the NBA.

“Chances are, I probably won’t be back at Georgia State,” Simonds said. “Everything will be released officially later on, but I probably just played my last game in a Georgia State uniform. I love the guys, I love the team. It’s been the best three years of my life. I really enjoyed it.”

The next three leading scorers — Devin Mitchell, Jeff Thomas and Malik Benlevi — are seniors.

Houston: The Cougars played like a team with NCAA experience. Whenever Georgia State made a run, the Cougars had an answer, and they didn’t let up. Houston outscored the Panthers 44-24 in the second half.

REBOUNDING DOMINANCE

Houston outrebounded Georgia State 51-27.

“I don’t think you can play 34 games and get to the NCAA Tournament and become somebody else,” Sampson said. “This is who we are. Our unselfishness, our ability to attack the offensive boards — we felt like we had an advantage on the boards, and that’s important to us. I thought our kids executed the game plan really, really good. Everybody was solid.”

DAVIS’ BIG NIGHT

It was the fifth time Davis scored at least 26 points in a game this season. He scored a career-high 31 on March 10 against Cincinnati.

UP NEXT

Houston awaits its second-round opponent.

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