For roughly two minutes of Wednesday night’s 73-66 win against Southeastern Louisiana, the University of Tulsa looked almost unstoppable.
During a late 10-0 burst at the Reynolds Center, the Hurricane ramped up its defense to get consecutive stops and force a flurry of turnovers, then capitalized on its speed while racing down the court and converting on the other end.
“We played defense and limited them to one shot,” swingman Brandon Rachal said. “When you do that and you get a clean rebound after a good stop, with the type of players we have, anybody can get it and go. We run the wings and run toward the rim and go get layups.”
Contrasting the elite execution of that stretch was a painful-to-watch end to the first half, when TU fell apart and committed six turnovers in three minutes. Because of a last-minute scratch, reserve Elijah Joiner was out with a sore knee, making freshman Isaiah Hill the only available scholarship point guard.
“If we had more notice, we could have worked with Reggie (Jones) or Lawson (Korita) knowing they were (going to be) in that role some,” coach Frank Haith said. “But we had to find a way to piece it (together) and that’s why at the end of the day when you win the game under the circumstance and with the way this game was played out, I’m proud of our guys.”
Without Joiner’s contributions as a ball-handler, the Hurricane (4-1) struggled against a relentless full-court press, resulting in 17 turnovers that disrupted offensive flow for the majority.
“It kind of messed up our rotation, so we didn’t know who was going to play what and then we have players with fatigue,” guard Darien Jackson said. “Elijah is a really good point guard, and it shows how big of a role he plays for our team.”
Employing a new starting lineup that included center Emmanuel Ugboh in place of veteran Martins Igbanu, TU jumped out to a 15-6 lead amid a high-intensity start. Instead of sticking with what was working, the Hurricane started launching off-the-mark 3-pointers, missing 13 in a row and finishing 3-of-19 from behind the arc.
“We had a great start and then I thought we got too cute,” Haith said. “I thought we took liberties and I felt like we disrespected Southeastern Louisiana. I thought we made some plays we shouldn’t make. We took some quick 3s we shouldn’t take.
“We had some guys open and we took shots. That’s what happens when you don’t play a game the right way, and I don’t think we were playing it the right way at that point in time.”
The game was tied at halftime, and the Lions (2-3) didn’t back down, going up by four points on four occasions in the second half. Their advantage was two with five minutes to go, when TU launched a 10-0 run with back-to-back three-point plays from Jeriah Horne and Rachal.
Jackson, en route to a career-best 18 points, followed a Horne 3-pointer with a layup, and the Hurricane made the necessary free throws in the final minute to extend its nonconference home winning streak to 17 games.
“When we were turning the ball over and weren’t playing well, we could have faulted, but we didn’t,” said Rachal, who delivered a third consecutive 20-point outing. “We stayed together. We started executing better, stopped turning the ball over and started playing for each other. That’s what got us over the hump.”