When you’re in need of a big basket in the final seconds, it certainly helps a coach if he has one of his conference’s best players to call upon.
That was the case for Oral Roberts head coach Scott Sutton, whose senior guard Obi Egemano (preseason Summit League Player of the Year) provided the heroics in the Golden Eagles’ 70-68 win over city rival Tulsa. After Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison split a pair of free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining Egemano dribbled the length of the floor, knocking down a challenged fadeaway baseline jumper with 1.9 seconds to go.
Egemano’s shot capped a wild final minute, as ORU erased a four-point deficit against the Golden Hurricane with Albert Owens scoring five straight points before Harrison split two free throws. As a result the Golden Eagles will hold onto the Mayor’s Cup for a third consecutive year.
With all five starters back from a team that won 23 games and finished second in the American Athletic Conference, it’s reasonable to expect Frank Haith’s Tulsa Golden Hurricane to at the very least make a run at the conference’s top spot. And while most of the country was fixated on the Champions Classic and the college football rankings, Tulsa picked up a big win as they beat No. 9 Wichita State 77-67.
Wichita State’s senior guard tandem of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet is well-respected nationally and with good reason, given what they (individually and collectively) have accomplished over the last three-plus seasons. But Tulsa has a talented and experienced backcourt of its own, and those attributes (along with their depth) factored into the Golden Hurricane erasing a five-point second half deficit and handing Wichita State its first loss of the season.
Shaq Harrison led four Tulsa players in double figures with 20 points on the night, and his 5-0 spurt after Wichita State tied the game at 40 with 14:50 remaining gave the Golden Hurricane a lead they would not relinquish. While Harrison and sidekick James Woodard (13 points) receive the lion’s share of the attention, fellow guards Marquel Curtis and Pat Birt Jr. are key cogs and that was especially the case Tuesday night. Curtis scored 15 points and Birt came off the bench to add 14, with 11 of those points in the second half.
While Wichita State does have perimeter depth, and they’ll get deeper once Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp gets eligible next month, they’ve got some young players on the back end of their guard rotation. And on a night in which VanVleet (11 points, three assists) played through hamstring and ankle issues, Gregg Marshall needed someone else to step forward alongside his two guards and forward Anton Grady (18 points, nine rebounds) if they were to get past the Golden Hurricane.
That didn’t happen, with no other Shocker scoring more than four points and Tulsa’s reserves outscoring Wichita State’s subs 30-8 on the night. Tulsa has depth, talent and experience, and those areas were on display not just in the second half but throughout the game as a whole. This matchup may not have been on Tuesday’s marquee, but the result is one that should grab the attention of those who aren’t familiar with their personnel.
Tulsa has the pieces needed to win a conference title and return to the NCAA tournament, and Tuesday’s win should be seen as evidence supporting that.
With three recruits having already made their verbal pledges, Tulsa head coach Frank Haith and his staff are off to a solid start when it comes to accounting for some key departures in 2016. Wednesday the Golden Hurricane landed their fourth commitment in the Class of 2016, as 6-foot-9 power forward Martins Igbanu announced that he’ll be joining the American Athletic Conference program.
Igbanu attends Covenant Christian Ministries Academy in Georgia, and he played his grassroots basketball for the Southern Stampede program. In Nike EYBL play this spring Igbanu averaged 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest, shooting nearly 59 percent from the field.
Igbanu joins guards Lawson Korita, Corey Henderson and Jabar Ray in Tulsa’s 2016 recruiting class to date, with Henderson and Ray being junior college products.
While Tulsa’s biggest losses after the 2015-16 season from a production standpoint will come on the perimeter (James Woodard, Shaquille Harrison and Rashad Ray), they also have some front court departures to account for. Rashad Smith, who was third on the team in scoring as a junior, will also be a senior this upcoming season and the same can be said for fellow front court contributors D’Andre Wright and Brandon Swannegan.
Adding Igbanu will help Tulsa as they look to account for those eventual losses. Of the front court players on the roster with eligibility remaining beyond 2015-16 current junior T.K. Edogi was the most productive last season (1.4 ppg), with Pat Birt joining the team this season and Rutgers transfer Junior Etou becoming eligible after he sits out the upcoming season.