In Monday night’s second half, University of Tulsa forward Martins Igbanu was too much to handle.
Propelling the Hurricane to a solid 88-78 win against Little Rock at the Reynolds Center, Igbanu repeatedly took advantage of his mismatch, connecting on close-range shots or getting to the free-throw line.
“He’s really grown as a player and I believe this: If he continues, he can be (one) of the better players in our league as a post player,” coach Frank Haith said. “They’re hard to come by, but he’s just got to believe in himself — which he has and continue to develop.”
Igbanu, who scored 20 of his 23 points after halftime, showed significant progression from his previous two seasons, when he would take a pass in the post and linger in the lane before attempting a shot.
“I think the first two baskets I had in the second half, I kind of hesitated ... and I heard Coach yelling to go up right there, so I knew to go up right away,” Igbanu said. “From there it was just a matter of having a feel for it and knowing if someone was on me or not and just going up with it.”
In addition to shooting 6-of-8 from the field, Igbanu cashed in on free throws, making 11 of 12 attempts. Each time he was sent to the line, he calmly collected himself and took his time.
“His release and everything is very consistent because he doesn’t have a lot of extra movement,” Haith said. “He slows himself down and whatever his routine is in terms of telling himself how to shoot it, he does a really good job with that.”
TU, which moved to 4-0 ahead of a game against No. 6 Nevada in Las Vegas on Thursday, missed its first 11 shots and fell behind by a dozen points in the first half but climbed back to within five at halftime.
“I thought we did a really good job of slowing ourselves down and we got enough stops to the point that we could execute on offense,” Haith said. “Once they jump out to a lead, and that can happen, you’ve just got to stay poised. You can’t panic and take quick shots.”
During a game featuring 55 fouls and 67 free throws, the Hurricane became more aggressive in the second half and caused four Little Rock players to foul out. Against reserves, Igbanu found even more success.
In a key 73-second span down the stretch, Igbanu scored six points. After a steal and assist from Jeriah Horne, Igbanu delivered a one-handed dunk that ignited the crowd and gave TU its largest lead.
Trojans guard Rayjon Tucker poured in 21 first-half points as a result of shaky transition defense, but the Hurricane limited him to three points in the second half while forcing six turnovers from him.
“He was definitely a focal point in our defense in the second half,” Haith said. “It was all about staying in front of him, making him shoot contested jump shots.”