GREENVILLE, N.C. — In the closing minutes of Saturday’s game at East Carolina, the University of Tulsa men’s basketball team overcame its road weariness to pull away with a 77-68 victory.
“I thought we played with some great toughness and grinded it out,” TU coach Frank Haith said on postgame radio. “We were really good offensively other than the turnovers in the first half. We got shots (when) we wanted to get.”
The American Athletic Conference game was tied with three minutes to go when Darien Jackson delivered a crucial and-one play and followed with a fast-break layup, putting the Hurricane (9-6, 6-4) up five with 88 seconds left.
“(Jackson) was big,” Haith said. “He played like a vet. I trust him and he was out there doing what he does.”
Brandon Rachal, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, blocked a shot from Pirates star Jaylen Gardner on the other end and TU made seven of eight free throws the rest of the way to end a two-game skid.
In the early going, newly inserted starters Austin Richie and Rey Idowu fueled the Hurricane with their team’s first 14 points. Richie hit four 3-pointers in the first half and TU had a narrow 37-35 halftime advantage.
Rachal ignited after halftime, scoring seven of the first nine points in the half. After East Carolina regained the lead, a layup from Rachal and dunks from Jackson and Idowu in a 59-second span put momentum back in the Hurricane’s direction.
“You’ve got to do some things for (Rachal) to get him going a little bit,” Haith said. “He was aggressive, but he didn’t force. That’s a fine line.”
Gardner was a handful, burning TU for 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting and repeatedly doing his part to keep the last-place Pirates (7-6, 1-6) in the game.
“He may be the toughest matchup for us all year,” Haith said. “He’s so big and he’s strong in the paint and he can hit that mid-range shot, the turnaround jump shot.”
TU returns home to play SMU at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Reynolds Center.