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Houston falls to Duke after losing Jamal Shead in Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament – ESPN

Jamal Shead heads to locker room after injury (0:24)

Houston’s Jamal Shead appears to injure his ankle and is helped to the Cougars locker room. (0:24)

  • Adam Teicher, ESPN Staff WriterMar 30, 2024, 01:57 AM ET


    • Covered Chiefs for 20 seasons for Kansas City Star
    • Joined ESPN in 2013

DALLAS – Kelvin Sampson said there is no player in the country more valuable to his team than Jamal Shead is to Houston. Shead is the Big 12 player of the year, a first-team All-American and Houston’s best defender.

“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Sampson said. “We don’t have another Jamal. He was the best player on the floor tonight. He’s been the best player on the floor every game we played this year except a few.

“We got a one seed because of his leadership, his toughness, his ability to make everybody better.”

The Cougars, the top seed in the South Region, played without Shead for much of their Sweet 16 loss to fourth-seeded Duke. Shead played 13 minutes in the first half and scored two points before spraining his ankle.

He didn’t return to the game, watching the second half from the bench as Houston lost 54-51. Duke moves on to Sunday’s Elite Eight game against NC State.

Sampson said Shead would have missed the rest of the tournament even if Houston had advanced.

“I couldn’t really put any pressure on it or walk,” Shead said. “I couldn’t go back out there. I hate that it ended like this. I wish I could have gotten back out there and at least been in the fight.

“I knew that if I played it probably would have been a different outcome or I hope it would have.”

The Cougars kept the game close, but Emanuel Sharp missed a 3-point try in the final seconds that would have sent the game to overtime.

“We were in a position to win the game without Jamal,” Sampson said. “With Jamal, it’s a totally different story, but that’s neither here nor there, is it?

“It doesn’t feel like a fair fight. You would have to take maybe two of theirs to equal one of Jamal. That’s how good he was. He’s a first-team All American. You don’t have another one of those. You don’t have the best defensive player in the Big 12. You don’t have a guy that made all the big shots at the end.”

Almost echoing Sampson, Duke coach Jon Scheyer said, “Shead is the ultimate competitor and winner. There’s no replacement for him.”

Sampson said he believed the Cougars were good enough to reach the Final Four but for injuries. The Cougars lost guards Terrance Arceneaux and Joseph Tugler to injuries earlier in the season.

Instead, Houston failed to reach the Final Four for the second straight season as a No. 1 seed.

“Sometimes that’s just God’s work,” Sampson said. “It just wasn’t our time.”