GAME NOTES: The Tulsa Golden Hurricane hope to build on a pair of huge wins in continuing their Conference USA schedule Saturday when they play host to the Houston Cougars at Donald W. Reynolds Center.
Tulsa took down conference rival Memphis on the Tigers' home turf Wednesday, as the Golden Hurricane stormed back from a 10-point deficit in the second half to notch a signature 68-65 win. It was Tulsa's first win against Memphis in 13 tries and first road win in the series dating back to 1971. The Hurricane weathered a pair of unsuccessful three-point tries from the Tigers on the game's final possession and were led by Steven Idlet's game-high 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Jordan Clarkson sank a pair of clutch free throws late and ended with 15 points for the victors. Scottie Haralson added 13 points and five rebounds. His 7-for-7 showing at the charity stripe was part of a larger 22-for-27 effort that helped turn the tide.
Houston lost its fourth game in a row on Tuesday, falling just short at home to Marshall in a tense 63-62 finish. The Cougars scored five straight points to erase a late four-point deficit but the Herd's Aundra Williams dropped in a layup with 11 seconds remaining for the final margin. Houston still had a chance for the win on its last two trips down the floor, but turned it over and had Maurice McNeil's shot clang off the rim at the buzzer. McNeil's 16 points and nine rebounds paced the Cougars' offense. Alandise Harris also came away with 16 points, going 12-for-20 at the free throw line.
Houston took a 20-19 lead in the all-time series with its 64-57 home win back on January 19, snapping a three-game losing streak to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane captured an 86-80 road win last year with the most recent meeting in Tulsa coming on February 25, 2009 -- a 77-68 victory for the hosts.
The Golden Hurricane have now beaten former conference co-leaders UTEP and Memphis in consecutive games behind the strength of their two leading scorers, senior Justin Hurtt and the junior Idlet. Hurtt, whose jumper with seven seconds left as part of an 18-point night versus UTEP, paces the club with an average of 20.1 points per game. Idlet follows with a solid 12.9-point average and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds per game. Haralson provides 11.8 points per contest and tops the roster with 60 three-pointers. He shoots 38.0 percent from beyond, while Hurtt has buried 56 threes on 37.1 percent shooting. Clarkson checks in at a 10.4-ppg scoring average to help Tulsa post 70.7 points per game. The Golden Hurricane connect on 43.9 percent of their field goals compared to opponents' 41.8 shooting percentage and an average of 68.2 points against. Tulsa has a nice advantage on the boards, holding a plus-4.8 margin on average (36.7-31.9).
The Cougars have a host of steady contributors on offense and muster 69.6 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting from the field. Adam Brown leads the way at 14.5 points per game, and both he and Darian Thibodeaux lead the club in three-pointers with 41 apiece. The former shoots a healthy 46.1 percent from long distance. McNeil helps carry the load with a 12.7-point average and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds per game. Kendrick Washington adds to the well- rounded attack with 9.7 points and 5.3 boards while Zamal Nixon and Harris check in at 8.8 and 8.7 points, respectively. Thibodeaux averages 8.3 points. Opponents average 67.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting from the floor and Houston is narrowly edged by the competition in rebounding, trailing by 1.1 per game (36.1-35.0).
Tulsa is on a serious roll and is now tied with a host of teams for second place in the conference. Houston meanwhile, has a lot to learn in trying to finish off close games, as evidenced by its current losing skid. Look for the Golden Hurricane to blow past the Cougars at home in further establishing themselves as a contender in C-USA.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 71, Houston 63