TULSA, okla. (AP) – Frank Haith has coached various teams to some big wins over the years, and he wanted everyone to know how much Tulsa’s performance against the undefeated number 5 in Houston meant to his team.
“This one was special,” said Haith of Tulsa’s 65-64 win on Tuesday evening. “Houston is one of the best teams in the country. I hope everyone understands. “
Tulsa needed a final second shot in the basket from Brandon Rachal, a senior all conference striker who was fouled with one tenth of a second remaining and both made free throws to improve the Cougars.
The win brought Tulsa 2-1 in the American conference, 5-3 overall. Houston (2-1, 7-1) had handily won their first seven games, the next was a nine-point win over UCF.
It was Tulsa’s first win over a top five team since winning UCLA in 1996.
Rachal led Tulsa with 22 points and seven rebounds.
After Caleb Mills floated 7 feet with six seconds remaining to give Houston the lead for the first time in the final 13 minutes of play, Rachal took a pass, drove the length of the course, and was centered by Brison Gresham on Edge fouled split second before time ran out.
Rachal went to the line and calmly took both free throws.
“There was no pressure,” said Rachal. “I said to myself, you took every free throw tonight, just do the same. They shoot free throws every day, just knock it down. The second felt a little short, I’m not going to lie, but when I saw it ricochet and go over, I knew it was going to fall. “
Tulsa came into the game 58.2% of the time with free throws, making 18 out of 22 to keep the Cougars off.
“We put them on the line over and over again, and they kept restoring them,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “These children are people. You won’t be great every night or win every game. It felt like we were fighting uphill all night. “
At halftime, Tulsa had a multiple lead of six points in the second half, but the Cougars never lost contact and connected the game 62-0 after an offensive rebound from Marcus Sasser. Rey Idowu made one of two free throws to give Tulsa the lead 63-62 before Mills gave the Cougars the lead.
Quentin Grimes led Houston with 19 points and seven rebounds. Sasser had 14 points and Mills had 11 for Houston.
Tulsa fought their way back from an early 15-7 deficit, finishing the game 15 points in a row with 3 pointers from Curtis Haywood, who shot 20% from a distance. Houston pushed their lead back to five points, but another 3-pointer from Haywood pulled Tulsa within 24-22.
Tulsa took its first lead at 27-26 with a 3-pointer from another unlikely source, Darrien Jackson, whose shot from the left corner was his first 3 of the season on four attempts. One ride by Elijah Joiner bounced four times on the edge before falling off when the time ran out, giving TU a 31-30 lead during the break.
The Cougars lead the American conference on rebound margin, sales margin, and steals.
Tulsa has consistently topped its US preseason predictions, finishing ninth for the first time a year ago. The hurricane’s tough performance against Houston shows that TU can potentially improve its prediction for sixth place for this season.
Houston shot only 35% off the field, 19% of which with 3 pointers (4 out of 21) and couldn’t overwhelm Tulsa with their physicality as they have most of the opponents. They outperformed Tulsa 38-35.
Rachal did most of his damage on drives and offensive rebounds inside, but his 3-hand regression after the shot clock ran out, giving Tulsa a 60-54 advantage at 5:12, was enormous for the Hurricane.
Houston concludes its road trip on Sunday with three games at Southern Methodist.
Tulsa begins a two-game conference road trip in Cincinnati on Saturday, followed by a game at UCF on Wednesday.
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