The Tulsa Golden Hurricane look to continue their late-season push for a Conference USA regular-season championship Wednesday when they travel to take on the Rice Owls on Senior Night at the Tudor Fieldhouse.
Tulsa kept pace with a crowded group just a game out of first place in the C- USA standings after notching a 66-59 victory over Tulane Saturday. The Golden Hurricane were nursing a two-point edge entering the second half and came out of the break firing with a 10-2 run. The hosts' lead increased to 13 heading down the stretch before a late Green Wave rally to make it a four-point game with 48 seconds to play fell short. Justin Hurtt dropped a game-high 24 points to pace Tulsa, which responded nicely after a loss at Marshall. It was the sixth win in eight games overall for the Hurricane, who got a solid contribution of 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks from Steven Idlet.
Rice dropped a heart-breaker at home to East Carolina Saturday, as the Pirates' Jontae Sherrod hit a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds to play to produce a 71-68 win. The Owls came back from down 10 at halftime to make it a one-possession game early in the second half but ECU answered with a pair of three-pointers to gain some breathing room. Rice again fought back and tied the game twice in the waning moments but the Pirates continued to knock down long range shots as Jamar Abrams' three and Sherrod's game-winner broke the deadlock each time. All told, ECU sank 14 three-pointers on a whopping 27 attempts and shot 48.0 percent from the floor overall. The Owls received 18 points from Tamir Jackson and connected on 44.9 percent of their field goals, including 7-of-19 from beyond the arc. Lucas Kuipers added 15 points and Arsalan Kazemi had 13 and 11 rebounds in the setback, Rice's fifth in the last six games.
The Golden Hurricane have clipped the Owls in eight straight meetings, including a 75-64 triumph at home back on January 8. This season marks the first that the two clubs are matching up in a home-and-home set since joining C-USA. Tulsa holds a 21-6 advantage in the all-time series dating back to both teams' days as members of the Western Athletic Conference.
The Golden Hurricane offense holds its own at 70.5 points per game and features four players that average double-figure scoring. A shaky defense has buckled down recently with its opponents' scoring average down to 67.9 points per game. Hurtt's 20.0-point averages leads all of C-USA and Idlet follows with a solid 12.3-point average to pair with a team-leading 6.6 rebounds per game. His 52.8 shooting percentage stands third in league play. Scottie Haralson provides 11.3 points per contest and is tied for the team-lead with 75 three-pointers alongside Hurtt. Haralson shoots 38.5 percent from beyond, while Hurtt has connected on 36.9 percent of his long distance attempts. Jordan Clarkson checks in at 10.8 ppg, with Tulsa connecting on 43.7 percent of its field goals compared to opponents' 42.2 shooting percentage. The Hurricane have a nice advantage on the boards as well, holding a plus-5.6 margin on average (37.1-31.5).
The Owls have a decent swath of scorers but have experienced mostly an up-and- down ride when it comes to the offense. The standout sophomore Kazemi tops the roster at 15.3 points per game and leads the conference with 11.4 rebounds per contest. His field-goal percentage (53.9) stands second in C-USA. Kazemi is backed by a solid 14.0-point average from Jackson and Connor Frizzelle joins both in double-figures at 10.8 points per game. The Owls own a decent plus-3.0 margin on the glass (33.9-30.9) and post 67.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting. Opponents are held to an identical 43.5-percent shooting clip and nearly match the Owls in points as well with 67.4 per contest.
Tulsa hasn't exactly been dominant on its recent surge but has managed to claw back into contention for a first-round bye in the C-USA tourney and has an outside shot at landing in first place, though a lot of pieces have to fall perfectly into place. Playing Rice should help, as the Owls are tied for second-to-last in league play. The Golden Hurricane can't take the Owls lightly though, and will need a better effort than they put up against Tulane to keep moving forward.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 73, Rice 69