TULSA — Who needs an All-American point guard? And one of college basketball’s best shooters? And an experienced swingman?
Not Oklahoma State. Not Saturday afternoon, anyway.
With Juwan Evans out with a shoulder injury he sustained at practice, and with Phil Forte limited by a bruised tailbone he suffered in the same practice, and with Tavarius Shine missing his third game with a sore back, OSU coach Brad Underwood turned to a lineup filled with freshmen.
And before a noisy Reynolds Center crowd of 7,333, Underwood got more than he hoped: a gutty, 71-67 victory over Tulsa.
“I think we had five freshmen on the floor at one time,” Underwood said. “I thought our freshmen were fearless. That’s why I play freshmen, because they work their tail off.”
Brandon Averette replaced Evans with a season-high 37 minutes and a game-high 17 points. Thomas Dziagwa showed moxie by burying contested jump shots, including three 3-pointers and 11 points in the second half. Cameron McGriff was 2-for-2 from the field with six rebounds and two steals.
And after Tulsa had overcome a 13-point deficit to lead by three points with five minutes to play and then tied it at 67 with 40 seconds to go, Lindy Waters elevated over Pat Birt and dropped in a clutch game-winner with just 15.8 seconds remaining.
“That’s why I love this freshman group,” said Underwood, whose team improved to 7-2 and ended a six-game road losing streak. “They work their tail off, they have great swagger, great confidence and they have a lot of pride. And all of those young men have won. They’re winners.”
TU’s Sterling Taplin, who led his team with 16 points, had a clear path at the basket in the final two seconds but couldn’t convert.
“Yeah, he had a point-blank layup,” said Golden Hurricane coach Frank Haith. “He just missed it.”
Tulsa (4-4) was outrebounded 41-30, including 17-5 on the offensive glass, and was outscored 14-8 on second-chance points. TU also committed 11 turnovers in the first half and 18 for the game.
“It’s very difficult to win when you give up 17 offensive boards and you turn the ball over 18 times,” Haith said. “We had only 48 (field goal) attempts and they had 63 attempts. That’s the difference in the game — not the last shot Waters hit or any play (like) Sterling’s layup there at the end.”
A back-and-forth defensive match from the start, OSU pulled away to a 13-point lead twice in the first half and led 38-30 at halftime. The Cowboys couldn’t build their lead in the second half to more than six, however.
“Offensively, we were just out of sync,” Underwood said. “… If you ask Frank, I think the top two guys on his scouting report are Jawun and Phil. Maybe Jeff (Carroll, who scored 13 for O-State). So now those roles change. So what we tried to do was a little bit different, and it really affected us in transition. Then it shortened our bench a little bit.
“I found myself praying a lot.”
Underwood was happy with an “ugly, ugly, ugly win,” while Haith lamented “a very disappointing loss.”
Said Underwood, “I told my team this: I’ve seen a lot of veteran teams get punched in the mouth on the road and fold and not win this (kind of) game. … To come in here today, shorthanded, I’m pretty proud of this group.”
Haith was glad to see his team rally from a double-digit deficit for the second game in a row. But the last one was a victory.
“We’re developing. We’re getting better,” he said. “We were down 14 the other night against a good Illinois State team. I think we’ve experienced that. I’m proud of these guys. I think our best basketball’s ahead of us.”
“There’s a reason that’s an NCAA Tournament team, Tulsa,” Underwood said. “This team fights. They run good offense. Good home team. Good atmosphere.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.