HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Tulsa coach Frank Haith was impressed with the character his team showed on Sunday.
The Golden Hurricane saw a nine-point lead disappear in the second half, but rallied to beat UConn 79-75 in overtime to pick up their fifth straight win and sixth in the last seven games.
Martins Igbanu scored a career-high 28 points, while Darien Jackson and Brandon Rachal each added 14 for Tulsa (14-6, 6-1 American). which was coming off a 40-point rout of No. 20 Memphis on Wednesday.
The Golden Hurricane were picked to finish 10th in the American Athletic Conference but are currently in first place.
“I thought our team did a great job of handling the adversities that come with playing on the road and did some really gut-checking things,” Haith said.
Freshman James Bouknight had 16 points for the Huskies (10-9, 1-5) who have lost four straight and six of seven.
Tulsa led by five points at halftime and was up 41-32 after a layup from Jackson early in the second half.
But UConn responded with a trapping press on defense and went on a 12-0 run, highlighted by Sidney Wilson’s drive through contact that gave the Huskies the lead.
A 3-pointer from Jeriah Horne from the left wing tied the game at 58 with just under two minutes to play and a goaltending call on Akok Akok with 50 seconds left put the Hurricane up by two.
It was 61-58 when Jackson leaped to block Christian Vital’s 3-point attempt from the left baseline with 3.4 seconds left, but was called for a foul.
Vital, who was just 3 of 14 from the floor, hit the first two foul shots before a Tulsa timeout, then calmly hit the third in front of a silent arena to tie the game.
But it would not be enough.
“Great effort, toughness, grit, can’t make up for not having the ability just to have a guy or two that down the stretch of a game can just take hold of it,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
Tulsa scored the first six points of extra time on a layup by Rachal, an alley-oop dunk by Jackson and pair of free throws from Igbanu, then held off the Huskies the rest of the way.
The Hurricane made all five of their shots in overtime and were 8 of 10 from the foul line.
“We emphasize the next play,” said Igbanu. “When something happens, it’s happened in the past, you can’t do anything about it. If you are able to move forward and stop worrying about the past, I think you’ll be in very good shape and I think that’s something this team does really well.”
Tulsa came in holding opponents to fewer than 64 points a game. Just six teams this season have scored more than 70 points on the Hurricane.
UConn’s previous three losses came by three points in double-overtime to Wichita State, six points to Villanova and four points to Houston. Connecticut is now 56-58 in American Athletic Conference play. The Huskies rejoin the Big East next season, where they were 325-233 in 34 regular seasons.
“(It’s) a tough locker room in there,” said Hurley. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team go through a four-game stretch like this.”
STATS OF THE GAME
Tulsa outrebounded UConn 42-34 and outscored the Huskies 42-32 in the paint. The Golden Hurricane shot 49.1% from the floor while holding UConn to 39.7%.
“Defense is the key. We don’t even think about the offense,” said Igbanu. “When we are able to stop guys, we have a pretty good chance of running the offense, running the floor and everybody scores.”
UConn’s Akok blocked seven shot to go with 13 points and seven rebounds. He now has 57 on the season for the Huskies, who have 116 as a team.
Tulsa returns home to face Wichita State on Saturday, before hosting the Huskies on Feb. 6.
UConn returns to campus to face Temple on Wednesday before heading to Memphis on Saturday.
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