After the University of Tulsa’s rough road outing Saturday produced a loss at UT-Arlington, coach Frank Haith went back to the drawing board.
For the third game of the season, the Mayor’s Cup against crosstown rival Oral Roberts, Haith tinkered with the rotation, including moving freshman point guard Isaiah Hill into the starting lineup.
“It doesn’t matter who starts — it’s about rotations and it’s about who plays well with who,” Haith said. “When you’ve got so many guys, it just takes a while to get that where you need it to be.
“Execution is not going to be great early because you’ve got a freshman point guard out there. But I’m proud of him, his first start and playing against a veteran guard. I thought he was outstanding.”
Hill propeled the Hurricane to a 74-67 victory at the Reynolds Center on Tuesday night, overcoming a shaky start that included four first-half turnovers and finishing with 12 points, eight assists and two steals.
“We’re just building chemistry, trying to know where guys are at and where their spots are,” Hill said. “We’re just working and we’re going to keep doing it.”
Joining Hill in the starting lineup was emerging guard Darien Jackson, who totaled 11 rebounds, six points, four assists and two steals while playing his usual high-intensity defense.
“I still love what Darien brings off the bench, but I wanted us to get off to a really good start,” Haith said. “I thought it was important and I knew he was going to bring the energy. We had not played well to start ballgames in either of our games or the exhibition game.”
Against the Golden Eagles, TU (2-1) was limited by sloppy play and couldn’t build a cushion in the early going, despite ORU’s top player, forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi, heading to the bench with two fouls only four minutes in.
A slim halftime advantage turned into a deficit when Nzekwesi returned in the second half, but the Hurricane started clicking during a 15-2 run fueled by newcomer Brandon Rachal and veteran Lawson Korita. After six points in a row from Korita, the lead stretched to nine on a free throw by Martins Igbanu with five minutes to go.
Igbanu, a central figure in the TU offense, did not have a typical performance, struggling to make close-range baskets and free throws.
Reserves Jeriah Horne and Reggie Jones were scoreless, but new big men Emmanuel Ugboh and Josh Earley showed potential during brief appearances.
“Obviously, Martins is someone who is important to our success,” Haith said. “He’s someone we want to play through offensively, but when he’s struggling that just means somebody else has to step up. I know those guys played limited minutes ... but they did a lot of good things out there defensively and got rebounds.”
Rachal also made up for a lack of scoring from his teammates, connecting on 9-of-12 shots for 24 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals.
“I’d run through a wall for this man next to me (Haith) and for those dudes in the locker room,” Rachal said. “I just make sure I play hard for them every night and give them everything I can.
“Whenever I’m off, I always bring something to the table, crashing hard, rebounding, playing defense hard, just trying to do everything I can to help my team win. If shots fall, that’s a bonus.”