Oklahoma State is riding high after their biggest win of the season against top-25 opponent Florida State last Saturday. The Cowboys saw solid performances again from Mitchell Solomon (12 points and 11 rebounds) and Tavarius Shine (12 points and 2 steals), and Jeffrey Carroll bounced back from his sub-par performance against Wichita State with one of his best all around games of the season (23 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists). You can read the CRFF recap of the game here.
The Cowboys return home to Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight as they face off against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Cowboys have only one more non-conference game after this one before they move into Big 12 play against West Virginia on December 29th.
Let’s get to the preview.
Who: Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-4, 0-0 American Athletic Conference)
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena - Stillwater, Oklahoma
When: Dec. 19, 2017 - 8:00 p.m. CT
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
Tulsa comes into this game with a 7-4 record. They’ve only played two teams ranked inside the KenPom.com top 100, but one of those games was a victory over Kansas State (KenPom No. 42) in Wichita, KS as part of the Wichita Wildcat Classic. However, they also have some bad losses this season, including losing twice to Illinois State (KenPom No. 127), once as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and a loss to Lamar (KenPom No. 169).
The Golden Hurricane return five of their top six scorers from last season and there is a lot of optimism surrounding this team as they head into conference play. Tulsa’s ability to get to the free throw line, along with shooting over 69 percent on shots at the rim have been its two biggest strengths on offense this season. On the defensive side, if you look at KemPom.com, its defensive fingerprint is “inconclusive”. This is because Tulsa has found success recently in its zone defense, most notably in its upset victory over K-State.
Tulsa won their last match-up in GIA in 2015, which was their first victory in Stillwater since 1985. The Golden Hurricane will also be bringing a former Cowboy assistant back with them in their return to Gallagher-Iba, as Danny Henderson returns to campus after joining coach Frank Haith’s staff earlier this year.
KenPom.com has Tulsa ranked No. 115.
Players to Watch:
As I mentioned above Tulsa returns five of their top six scorers, and 6’8 forward Junior Etou leads the way for this returning group. The preseason All-AAC second-teamer is averaging 18.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg. He’s the definition of an inside-out big, as he takes nearly 50 percent of his shots at the rim, converting on 79 percent, but also is shooting 50 percent from distance. In addition, he’s eighth in the nation in free throws attempted on the season and is making slightly over 68 percent of them. He’s the primary reason why Tulsa ranks in the top 20 in the nation in team free throws attempted this year.
Along with Etou, Sterling Tapin is another playmaker for the Golden Hurricane and he will be running the show on offense. He leads the team in assists at 4.3 per game. He will have to shoulder more of the scoring load as forward DaQuan Jeffries will miss this one due to an injury. Jeffries is averaging 11.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg, but has been sidelined since the Kansas State game on December 9th.
Curran Scott, a transfer from Charlotte, and Corey Henderson Jr. round out the backcourt for Tulsa. They are both averaging over 7 points per game. Neither one is shooting particularly well from 3, but Henderson isn’t afraid to fire them up as he’s taking almost five shots from behind the arc per game.
Three Big Things:
1. Don’t Give Away Free Points
As previously mentioned, Tulsa has been able to get to the charity stripe at an incredibly high rate this season. Mitchell Solomon and Yankuba Sima will have their hands full with Junior Etou inside, but they have to keep their hands to themselves, and not let the Golden Hurricane stay in the game by racking up free throws. Oklahoma State is tied for 223rd in fouls per game at 19.1 and KenPom has them 229th in defensive free throw rate. The Cowboys will have to keep the fouls to a minimum against a team that’s been very good at drawing them this season.
2. Score Inside
Tulsa is 254th in the nation in terms of blocked shots per game. In addition, they don’t play anyone over 6’9, and only have four guys on the roster taller than 6’7. Solomon and Sima should feast down low, and coach Boynton should look to call their number early and often.
Whether it be in the pick and roll...
Back door lobs (even though he didn’t finish it)..
Or even just a simple post-up..
These two guys need to get the ball, and when they do they need to be aggressive.
3. Hit Your Shots
Tulsa’s zone defense baited K-State into 31 attempts from distance. The real issue here though is that they made only 12 percent of those 31 attempts. The Cowboys can’t let the Tulsa zone cause them to get trigger happy from beyond the arc, but they also have to knock them down if they are getting wide open looks. They haven’t been great from 3 this season, making only 33.6 percent of their attempts, but they should get some good looks if Tulsa continues with their zone defense, and the Pokes have to make them count.