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.