Needing to win at least one of their next two games, the Hurricane dropped its games against Cincinnati and SMU, taking second place in the conference as a result.
On Wednesday the Hurricane, needing a win to guarantee at least a share of the American title, hosted the Bearcats. This was the first matchup of the season between the two, as Cincinnati is the team that Tulsa only played once this season.
The Bearcats were able to battle to a 5–4 lead early in the first half, and never lost the lead after that. The Golden Hurricane was only able to get as close as three in the second half before they fell 56–47 at home.
The Hurricane starters struggled against the Bearcats, shooting only 5–22 in the first half. Cincinnati had the advantage in size, which made it harder for the Golden Hurricane to get into any kind of rhythm.
The biggest struggle for the Golden Hurricane was the inconsistency on the free-throw line, shooting only 30 percent for the game. There is a reason why they are called free throws—they are supposed to be free points. When you aren’t even making half of your free throws then something needs to be done. If Tulsa shoots 60–70 percent, it’s a whole different game. Missed free-throws kill momentum.
Trailing by seven to start off the second half, the Hurricane hoped to gain momentum, bringing it within five early, only to see the Bearcats score six straight to take a double-digit lead. Tulsa was able to keep pace, but fell after Cincinnati scored six of their last ten free throws to win by nine. Rashad Ray and James Woodard led the Hurricane with 15 and 12 points respectively.
Coach Frank Haith had this to say on the loss: “(The Bearcats) were really aggressive and physical. When you play a team that has physical guys, particularly a post-up game, our goal was to try and take something away. They did a good job of throwing it out of the post and (Francis) Cobb had one of those nights.
“We left a lot of points out there. When you play a team that’s really good defensively, as they are, you can’t leave points out there. I think we left a lot of bunnies around the basket that I thought we missed. Also on the free throw line we missed opportunities like that to score. Against a good defensive team you need to score.”
Tulsa traveled to Dallas with the conference title on the line, against the team that handed Tulsa its first conference loss of the season. For the winner, the thrill of being the sole American Athletic Conference regular season champion. The loser settles for second and a strong tournament seeding.
The Golden Hurricane played a much stronger game against the Mustangs compared to their previous match up, but it was not enough to carry them over SMU, who won 67–62. James Woodard set a Tulsa record with 10 three-pointers in the game, putting up nearly half of the Hurricane’s overall points.
With the two losses, the Golden Hurricane is dangerously close to being out of the NCAA Tournament, with many analysts predicting Tulsa to be one of the first four out. The easiest road to the tournament for Tulsa now is to win the automatic berth by taking home the American Athletic Conference Tournament title.
The road to the AAC title is not an easy one. First would come the winner of Tulane vs. Houston game, followed by the winner of (most likely) UConn vs. Cincinnati. Finally the Hurricane would need to beat the Mustangs in Hartford to take the title. The Hurricane are going to need to beat at least two of the teams they lost to in order to win the AAC tournament. Their first game will be on Friday at 7 p.m.