After yet another demoralizing loss against Temple dropped Tulsa below .500 in conference play, DaQuan Jeffries put the Golden Hurricane on his back to snap the team’s four game losing streak.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Wichita State, the Golden Hurricane traveled to Philadelphia hoping to get their season back on track against the Temple Owls. Instead they were met with even more disappointment, losing 59-58 on a Josh Brown layup with 28 seconds remaining.
Both teams looked incredibly sloppy to start, neither having much luck penetrating the others’ defense and forced to barf up a ton of low-percentage looks from outside. TU threw the ball away left and right and started an abysmal 0-11 from the field before Junior Etou canned a midrange J after nearly 10 minutes of game time, and yet the Golden Hurricane never found themselves down by more than three after the opening possession.
Etou’s shot got something going and minutes later, back-to-back-to-back threes from Lawson Korita, Corey Henderson and Korita again helped the team earn its first lead of the night. The squads battled back and forth the rest of the half, going into the break deadlocked at 29.
Martins Igbanu scored down low on TU’s first two possessions of the second half to take a lead they would not relinquish until the final minute. Everything looked much smoother to start the second, with Etou firing at will off the pick-and-pop after just a single shot attempt in the first and Sterling Taplin able to make his way to the basket at will.
Unfortunately, Temple’s star forward Obi Enechionyia turned it on as well, pouring in four three pointers and 15 second half points after going scoreless in the first. Enechionyia’s final three pointer brought the Owls to within one with just over a minute remaining and point guard Brown hit the dagger with his lay-in off a sharp cut to the middle.
TU was able to hold Temple to just 32.4 percent shooting from the field and just five free throw attempts while hitting 42.6 percent themselves, but turnovers and second-chance points proved to be the difference maker in this one. The Golden Hurricane committed 18 turnovers to Temple’s six and gave up 13 offensive boards. All told, they took 17 fewer shots in the one-point loss.
Back home on Saturday against Memphis, the team that began TU’s four game losing streak, Frank Haith must have been desperate for some sort of spark. He found it in DaQuan Jeffries. With Etou and Taplin hampered by foul trouble and ineffective all night, Jeffries was a beast, putting up 24 points and 11 rebounds (including seven on the offensive end) in just 22 minutes of play to lead Tulsa to a 64-51 victory. Senior Jaleel Wheeler came up big off the bench as well, playing a season-high 29 minutes and contributing 13 points on 5-8 shooting with three steals.
Jeffries and Wheeler’s frisky hands and stout defense played a big part in the Golden Hurricane taking a big lead into the half, 33-20. Though Etou was again held to just a single shot and Taplin failed to score, TU’s offense found its juice through Corey Henderson, taking on his biggest role yet as a ball handler. Henderson juked defenders all night with some as-yet-unseen moves and looked like a true sharpshooter, nailing threes off the dribble and the catch.
When the Tigers began to battle back in the second, there was a palpable nervousness in the crowd (this time thankfully made up of mostly Tulsa fans), as it looked like the team might once again find a way to blow the early lead. Kyvon Davenport proved too fast to be checked on the perimeter by Etou or Jeffries and too strong to be stopped at the rim.
He led Memphis with 21 points and 10 boards, while drawing many of the fouls that would send Etou and Taplin to the bench. His pull up jumper with eight minutes to go made the game 49-47, with all the momentum going the Tigers’ way.
But threes from Henderson and Jeffries, plus one of Wheeler’s random, freakishly athletic drives through the teeth of the defense (he’s usually good for one a game but must have had four or five in this one) reestablished a commanding lead. The Golden Hurricane would coast the rest of the way. TU now sits at 13-7 overall, with a 4-3 conference record.
I know it was just one week ago where I said I wasn’t worried at all about Junior, but he’s got to stop the disappearing act. Foul trouble and a tough defensive assignment is not an excuse to finish with two points in a must-win game. Besides, he played 24 minutes, not 10. Even in the Temple game, where he recorded a career-high 15 rebounds and a double-double, he still only put up six shots with a single trip to the line. Haith is using Etou more as a high screener, but defenders sag way under the pick when defending Taplin, leaving Etou without a lane to roll to the basket. That, combined with what looks like fewer possessions getting the ball at the elbow, has eaten way into Junior’s free throw attempts. After averaging 8.5 free throw attempts per game in pre-conference play, one of the best marks in the country, Etou has only gotten to the line three times per game since.
The Golden Hurricane’s brutal schedule continues going forward, as they play at Wichita St. and then host SMU for their next two games. The former is reeling, having dropped two in a row to SMU and Houston (and what was very nearly three after their near escape against TU) and sure to see their ranking plummet, but it will still be a lot to ask for our boys to take them down on the road.
That leaves good old Southern Methodist, a young but talented team. Sitting at .500 in the conference standings and with tough matchups against UCF and Cincinnati still to go, Tulsa will need to win at least one of these games to feel good about the possibility of sneaking into the conference tournament.