The University of Tulsa’s path to a potential American Athletic Conference championship would not be easy.
Needing a win to move into a three-way tie with Houston and Cincinnati for the league lead, the Hurricane trailed last-place Tulane down the stretch of Tuesday night’s game at the Reynolds Center.
To prevail 62-57, Tulsa scored eight of the last 10 points, retaking the lead on a crucial 3-pointer by Jeriah Horne and adding to its cushion with clutch moments in the last minute.
On a frenzied late possession, point guard Elijah Joiner slipped in the lane but managed to fling the ball to Martins Igbanu, who delivered under duress.
Between those baskets, the Hurricane secured essential stops and relied on a series of winning plays: a save by Brandon Rachal, a block by Rachal, an offensive rebound by Horne, a steal by Horne.
“I’m really proud of how we fought and how we did the things we needed to do to win the game,” coach Frank Haith said.
Tulsa (19-9, 11-4) jumped out to a 13-point advantage and appeared on its way for a stress-free victory. What followed was a surrendered 19-4 run while relaxing on defense and allowing Tulane’s Christion Hightower to heat up.
“It came easy for us to start the game,” Haith said. “Our defensive intensity wasn’t where it needed to be (later in the first half).”
Back-to-back 3s from Horne and Lawson Korita briefly put the Hurricane back on top, but Hightower delivered an 8-0 run to end the half and the Green Wave led 33-30 at the break.
Sporting its Mardi Gras uniforms, Tulane (12-16, 4-12) went up six early in the second half despite an obvious effort from Tulsa to get the ball to Igbanu in the paint. The Hurricane started clicking again during a fast-paced 10-0 run fueled by Rachal for the 45-41 lead.
Despite a flurry of turnovers, the scrappy Green Wave hit big shots to stay in striking distance. Walker drained a 3-pointer with seven minutes left to tie the game, and Hightower made a 3 two minutes later to give his team a one-point advantage before Tulsa’s 8-2 run.
“Earlier in the season, we’ve had a lot of games like that,” Igbnau said. “I think that prepared us well for moments like this. I looked around (late in the game) and I think everybody was pretty confident.”
Kelly Hines 918-581-8452
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