Tulsa rally falls short against Wichita State
After one of the truly awful first halves at home in recent memory against arch-rival Wichita State, Tulsa revived enough in the second half to give it a legitimate chance to win the game.
Unfortunately, just when TU would get within striking distance, the rally would fizzle out while Tulsa would self-destruct.
Especially at the free throw line.
Tulsa missed three free throws in the 1:17 that could have given it the lead. Instead, the Shockers held on to a tenuous lead that looked like they were ready to give away.
The result was an extremely disappointing 69-65 loss in front of no fans in Tulsa at the Reynolds Center.
Brandon Rachal scored 17 points, while Elijah Joiner and Curtis Haywood each added 11 points to lead Tulsa in a losing cause. It was a game TU should not lose against a decent but down Wichita State.
Tulsa (1-3, 0-1 AAC) was plastered 43-29 in a first half where the Shockers continually hit open shots, especially three-pointers. WSU was 7 of 14 (50 percent) in the first half on three's as a confused Golden Hurricane defense combined with a lackluster TU offense.
Wichita State (2-2, 1-0) outplayed Tulsa for most of the game, and made just enough plays to put Tulsa away, although it was missing free throws down the stretch as well.
Tulsa's best chance, among many, came when Elijah Joiner got fouled while converting a drive to the bucket to cut the WSU margin to 67-64 with 44.7 seconds remaining. But Joiner couldn't down the free throw.
Still, Rey Idowu got fouled with 24.1 seconds left. He converted one of two free throws. If TU makes all three from the line in just over 18 seconds, the game is tied. Instead, TU's two missed free throws kept it down 67-65. Tulsa finished 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from the line.
Tulsa's last ditch effort came when trailing by three at 68-65, but Keyshawn Embery-Simpson's guarded, off-balance three was a little off with just over 10 seconds remaining. WSU proceeded to hit one of two free throws, and Tulsa couldn't score again.
The Golden Hurricane took an uncharacteristic 31 three-pointers, hitting only eight (25.8 percent) for the game. That fact didn't please seventh-year Tulsa coach Frank Haith.
"I don't mind us taking threes, but we made one pass and jacked up threes too much tonight," Haith said. "Part of figuring out your team and having success with your team is figuring out who you are.
"Right now we have an identity crisis. We didn't play to the strength of who we are as a basketball team. And when you have that pattern, with what happened tonight, that is when you get your butt kicked."
To be fair to Tulsa, some players had just gotten back from COVID-19 breaks and only had a day of practice this week after having its games against Arkansas and ORU postponed.
Still, the Golden Hurricane played like a team that is not close to putting things together. It teases at moments, like it has all season, but TU just isn't there yet.
Alterique Gilbert and Ricky Council each scored 13 points to lead a balanced Wichita State attack that had four players in double figures.
Even though the Shockers are decent, they are clearly down after the debacle of losing head coach Gregg Marshall before the season.
The game was there to be had. But not this time.
Tulsa plays Northwestern State at 6 p.m. Friday night.