Amid the cancellation of Saturday’s game because of East Carolina’s ongoing COVID-19 situation, the University of Tulsa could play its home finale Wednesday night against Cincinnati.
Although the February homestand has not turned out as planned, the Hurricane is coming off a 72-66 victory against Temple last week and will look to generate needed momentum in the late stage of the season.
“We’re just trying to fight and get ourselves back on track,” coach Frank Haith said after the Temple win. “I’m proud of our effort. That’s what I wanted to see, us compete and fight and understand who we are as a basketball team and how we have to play to be successful. I think we got to playing Tulsa basketball tonight.”
TU ended a three-game skid but didn’t fully return to the form showcased while looking like an American Athletic Conference contender in January. This team continues to struggle on both ends and has displayed a fragile confidence in the past six weeks.
“We can play better on defense,” Haith said. “The offense will take care of itself, but right now we’ve got to focus on getting back to playing that side of the ball better. That’s what we focused on to try to help us get our confidence back. I think sometimes when you put so much pressure on guys to shoot better ... that cannot be your emphasis when you’re struggling.”
One of the key victories for the Hurricane this season was a 70-66 outcome at Cincinnati to open 2021, the first time TU has won there since 1967. In that game, Brandon Rachal poured in 25 points and 13 rebounds, and he knocked down two crucial free throws in the closing seconds.
After finishing as co-champs with Houston last season, TU and Cincinnati have struggled this year, hovering near the .500 mark overall and in league play. The Bearcats prevailed in four games in a row before being throttled 90-52 at Houston on Sunday.
“I obviously was disappointed by getting boat-raced,” coach John Brannen told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m disappointed that we took it on the chin like that. I’m disappointed that we didn’t compete more defensively like we’ve been competing.”
In case the Hurricane doesn’t play another home game, seniors Elijah Joiner, Darien Jackson, Rachal and Emmanuel Ugboh will be honored before Wednesday night’s game, in front of an empty arena. Basketball players will be granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA, so they could return for an additional season.