Editor-in-Chief Justin Guglielmetti covers Tulsa’s basketball games against Cincinnati and Southern Methodist, respectively.
If somebody had told you that the Tulsa men’s basketball team would out-rebound a significantly larger Cincinnati team, record more assists and shoot 60 percent from three-point range, the smart money would have been on the Golden Hurricane winning handily. But that information wouldn’t account for the flurry of turnovers, missed free throws and clutch plays made against them down the stretch, as the Bearcats triumphed 70-65.
Cane Broome came off the bench to lead Cincinnati with 16 points and six assists, including his team’s last 14 points of regulation. Jarron Cumberland and Keith Williams added 14 points each.
For the Golden Hurricane, DaQuan Jeffries led the way with 14 points on perfect shooting from the field, despite playing only 26 minutes due to foul trouble. Jeriah Horne and Elijah Joiner contributed as well with quality performances off the bench, though it wasn’t enough to compensate for the team’s 22 turnovers or 30 percent shooting from the starters other than Jeffries.
Tulsa came out of the locker room playing off a raucous crowd and moving the ball with more purpose, and an 11-2 spurt capped by back-to-back three pointers from Curran Scott tied the ballgame at 32. From that point on, it was the Golden Hurricane setting the pace of the game, extending the lead to as high as six after back-to-back threes by Lawson Korita. Undeterred, Broome was able to overcome that deficit on his own with just over a minute left in the game. After a few crucial missed free throws from Tulsa, Broome hit a contested deep two with his foot on the line to send the game to OT.
Jeffries won the tip in OT against seven-footer Nysier Brooks and proceeded to knock down a three, but Cincinnati was able to rattle off a quick 11-2 run to seal the victory. Cumberland led the way with six in the extra period, silencing the student section that had mocked him relentlessly after two first-half airballs.
Facing a hangover from the difficult loss, Tulsa fell way short in their following game Saturday against SMU, as the Mustangs trampled the Golden Hurricane en route to a 77-57 victory.
The contest was a blowout almost from the start, only looking close for a few minutes after the start of the second half when TU was able to pull within six points. A few possessions and a barrage of three-pointers later, the game was totally out of reach.
Jahmal McMurray looked like Kemba Walker dancing his way to a game-high 22 points on what seemed like a dozen step-back threes. He was joined in double figures by center Ethan Chargois (a Tulsa native) with 18 points and Jimmy Whitt, a 6’3” toothpick who pulled down 10 boards and four assists to go along with his 10 points.
Jeriah Horne almost single-handedly kept the Golden Hurricane competitive in the first half, coming off the bench to contribute 11 of his 14 points. Aside from him, it was missed shot after missed shot and frustrating passivity from Sterling Tapin, Martins Igbanu and Jeffries. Everyone took turns missing rotations in the vaunted matchup zone, exposing holes in the defense for runways to the rim and wide-open perimeter looks. It was an embarrassing effort from a team that badly needed a win to maintain pace with the top teams in the American Conference and keep its slim March Madness hopes alive.
Winning 10 games in the non-conference schedule had hopes running high for a Tulsa team that was projected by almost all major publications to finish in the bottom half of the AAC. Early in the season, it looked like Frank Haith’s squad would once again find a way to exceed expectations, continuing to find their way to the line at an elite rate and fluster opponents with the matchup zone. But cracks are forming at the seams.
TU faces the unenviable situation of fielding a roster of mostly undersized and unimpressive athletes (with the exception of Jeffries and seldom-used Chris Barnes). This isn’t a problem on its own, but it makes the margins of error so much narrower across the board. The team can’t afford Korita and Scott’s streakiness and out-of-control, turnover-prone drives, or Taplin’s regression to his pre-2017-18 timidity, or Igbanu disappearing at the mere hint of a double team in the post. Everyone needs to do a better job boxing out and pursuing the ball. It’s not enough to blame rebounding woes on being undersized, not when a similarly-sized SMU was able to top Tulsa 44-29 on the glass (including a backbreaking 15-7 on the offensive boards).
It’s not time to despair yet, not this early in the conference season and not with the cushion that the team’s strong early performance gave them. But time is running out and adjustments need to be made. What those look like exactly is a tactical problem best left to Haith and the coaching staff, but off the top of my head, I’d like to see more minutes for Horne and a greater variety of offensive sets. The current motion-based, perimeter-handoff style dependent on well-timed backdoor cuts isn’t producing good enough looks with this personnel. Taplin looking to drive and dish and Horne (a gifted shooter and above-average passer) acting as the screener in a basic pick-and-pop would be the start.