While many segments of the University of Tulsa’s season opener were not pretty, others showed sparks of what to expect from the Hurricane this season.
Particularly during a 22-4 run that helped break the game open, TU relied on improved depth and heightened defensive intensity to close the door on Houston Baptist 80-72 Tuesday afternoon at the Reynolds Center.
“At halftime we talked about taking care of the controllables that we weren’t taking care of in the first half — making scrappy plays and diving for loose balls and taking care of the ball in transition and making wise decisions,” forward Martins Igbanu said. “I think we came back in the second half with that in our minds the whole time. We weren’t going to worry about winning the game, but taking care of that part of the game and (the rest) will take care of itself.”
In front of 3,200 kids from 22 area elementary schools for the annual Blackboards and Backboards game, the Hurricane fell behind by as many as eight points in the first half, struggling to come up with 50-50 rebounds, committing silly turnovers and taking low-percentage shots.
Jeriah Horne, who led TU with 22 points, gave the Hurricane its first lead with a jump shot before halftime. After Houston Baptist went back up by six, the Hurricane settled down and used its defense to spark a burst of 11 unanswered points.
“I thought our defense was solid throughout,” TU coach Frank Haith said. “The only thing they really picked us on (were) the loose balls and rebounding. ... We’ve got to make some adjustments and do a better job there.”
The Hurricane took advantage of an established presence inside instead of taking too many 3s like previous teams have done. The result was 48 points in the paint and 21 points from the free-throw line.
With less than six minutes to go, the lead stretched to 69-57 on an alley-oop from Elijah Joiner to Darien Jackson for the slam. From there, TU maintained a double-digit cushion until the closing seconds.
In addition to Horne’s performance, Igbanu poured in 16 points, half of those coming on free throws. Swingman Brandon Rachal, a junior-college transfer in his first game at TU, missed some shots early but finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Joiner had five assists and Jackson had five steals. Another newcomer, freshman point guard Isaiah Hill, added eight points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals off the bench.
“We do have a lot of new guys, so (it’s about) getting them equipped with how coach Haith plays and how we play and just continue to play more games, and I feel like that camaraderie will continue to grow,” Horne said.