John E. Hoover: Danny Manning's speech fuels TU's Mayor's Cup win
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 6:19 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Manning's speech fuels TU's comeback
As he walkeed past thousands of empty seats and into the visitor's locker room at the Mabee Center on Saturday, Danny Manning was utterly disappointed.
Manning had been fired up for his very first Mayor's Cup game as head basketball coach at the University of Tulsa. A blundered hiatus last year wounded the appeal of the previously energetic city series. Enthusiasm generated by the Oklahoma City Thunder has raised the stakes for everyone in the state to play quality basketball. And, for a change, Manning had a partially restored roster after enduring weeks of various injuries.
And yet, the Golden Hurricane trailed ORU by 13 at halftime. Manning was crestfallen.
"Yeah. Absolutely," Manning said. "To be in a game of this magnitude, with the way we played, you know, it was upsetting."
So before stepping in front of his team, the soft-spoken gentle giant decided to ramp up his own intensity.
Manning gave what insiders said was the most verbally charged and inspirational halftime presentation of his young career.
"The picture was not rosy," Manning said. "The unicorns weren't jumping around or anything."
Manning told his players that when he talks to people about them, regardless of their lack of experience or lack of height, one thing he always applauds is their effort.
But not this time.
"After that first half," Manning told them, "I can't say that."
So in the second half, TU players amplified their effort, the team picked up its tempo and, thanks to a savvy defensive switch, the Golden Hurricane overcame a 17-point deficit to win 72-68.
"We talked about coming out at halftime either one of two ways: either we're gonna compete or we're gonna lay down. What are going to do?" Manning said. "And we came out and competed."
Tulsa improved to 7-5, while ORU dropped to 5-7. Both teams are struggling with mediocrity, but this game remains an essential date on the schedule.
OK, so maybe the city is starting to have trouble staying excited about the friendly but entertaining rivalry. Maybe it was this year's mediocrity that kept them away. Maybe basketball fans were Christmas shopping, or perhaps still suffering from Mayan Apocalypse burnout. Or maybe the series hiatus did more damage than everyone figured.
As it turned out, only 6,020 fans showed up, the smallest ORU-Tulsa crowd anyone can remember. It's definitely the smallest in the last decade, and, with the Mabee Center barely half full, it was by far the smallest at ORU, where Mayor's Cup audiences have averaged 8,690 since the 2001-02 season. Even at TU's Reynolds Center, where steadily dwindling crowds led to Manning's hiring, the Mayor's Cup had drawn an average of 7,090 over the last 10 years.
Manning even acknowledged a bit of what may have been pregame jitters prior to his first rivalry clash with Oral Roberts. Only three TU coaches - Jim King in 1975, Steve Robinson in 1995 and Doug Wojcik in 2005 - lost their inaugural bout against ORU. Nolan Richardson, J.D. Barnett, Tubby Smith, Bill Self, Buzz Peterson, John Phillips and now Manning all won their debut versus the Golden Eagles.
"It was a little different (than the first 11 games)," Manning said. "Just because of the magnitude of the city. There's people talking about it. That's one of the first questions I got at my (introductory) press conference: 'Hey, are you guys gonna continue to play the Mayor's Cup?' So there's interest there."
Manning might have joined King, Robinson and Wojcik on the losing side if not for a key defensive switch he and his staff made at halftime.
ORU guard Warren Niles was 5-of-10 from the floor and 2-of-3 from 3-point range as he led the Golden Eagles with 15 points in the first half. Guarded by TU freshman James Woodard, Niles scored on long-range shots and fast-break layups as ORU committed just two turnovers and built its lead to as many as 16 in the first half.
Meanwhile Woodard, TU's leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, was 0-for-4 from the floor and was held scoreless in the first half.
In the second half, Woodard switched defensive assignments with fellow freshman Shaq Harrison and the game changed.
It freed up Woodard to score (he made 7-of-10 field goals and scored all 18 of his points after halftime) and, with the more defensive-minded Harrison in his face, Niles was limited on offense (he hit just 1-of-7 field goals and had seven points in the second half).
The switch, and Manning's halftime speech, helped Tulsa shoot 62 percent in the second half and limited ORU to 30 percent shooting after halftime.
"It all starts with effort and energy," Manning said.
Tulsa's first-year coach generated effort and energy from his team. Maybe now he can do the same with what looks like growing fan apathy toward college basketball in the city.
"We can say now, 'Hey, this is good for the city' or whatever," Manning said, "but for the teams to continue to play and generate interest and feed off of what the Thunder are doing in terms of just bringing more excitement to the game of basketball, this was good for our area."
Oral Roberts' Warren Niles (left) shakes hands with University of Tulsa coach Danny Manning (right) after a game at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World