Tulsa topples No. 9 Wichita State, announces itself as AAC contender

Last season, Tulsa came on late and gave itself a chance to get an NCAA Tournament bid in the closing weeks of the season. However, 23 wins wasn’t enough, and ultimately Frank Haith’s group came up just short largely because it didn’t have a marquee win that it could hang its hat on out of conference.

Well, that’s not going to be an issue this season, as the Golden Hurricane knocked off Wichita State 77-67 on Tuesday night. The Shockers became the third top-10 team to fall during the 24-hour college basketball marathon.

Of course, it needs to be said that Wichita was without a fully healthy Fred VanVleet, who outside of a 77-second, three 3-pointer outburst to end the first half was largely invisible as he struggles through both a left hamstring and a right ankle injury. Because of that, I’m not sure there’s actually a lot to take away from this one from the Shocker perspective.

His running mate in the backcourt, Ron Baker, did all that he could without a fully functional star point guard next to him, scoring 23 points, grabbing four rebound and snatching up four steals. Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady also did his part inside, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But ultimately, there just wasn’t enough from the rest of the supporting cast from the Shockers, who were simply out-manned in this one.

Shaquille Harrison was the star for Tulsa, scoring 20 points, including 13 in a 13-minute second-half span that saw the teams go from being tied to the Golden Hurricane leading by 11. Backcourt-mate James Woodard also scored 13. However, more than anything this was a depth issue, as Tulsa’s bench outscored Wichita’s 30-8 on the back of Pat Birt and Marquel Curtis. That depth also helped to wear out the Shockers on offense, as Tulsa held Wichita to only 36 percent from the field.

This isn’t a program-defining win or anything for Tulsa, but it does announce the team as a presence to be reckoned with in American Athletic Conference. As Wichita State has proven over the past few seasons, any win over them is going to be tough to come by, and the Hurricane deserve credit for fighting through and picking this one up.

Haith’s group was picked to finish fourth in the AAC despite finishing in sole possession of second place in the league last season and returning just about everyone from that team. But because of the SMU sanctions and Connecticut’s re-tooling, it seems like they have flown under the radar in the early portion of the season.

This win certainly announces them as a contender that will be tough to deal with once conference play rolls around. And with a senior-laden group, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they ended up just taking the whole league.

Tulsa beat Wichita State to announce itself as a team to remember in the AAC. (USATSI)
Tulsa beat Wichita State to announce itself as a team to remember in the AAC. (USATSI)

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