Rachal's late free throws lift Tulsa past No. 5 Houston

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Tulsa's Elijah Joiner is guarded by Houston's Marcus Sasser during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tulsa, Okla., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Dave Crenshaw)

TULSA, Okla. – Brandon Rachal hit two free throws with a tenth of a second remaining and finished with 22 points as Tulsa topped unbeaten No. 5 Houston 65-64 on Tuesday night.

After Caleb Mills made a 7-foot floater with six seconds left to give Houston its first lead in the final 13 minutes of the game, Rachal took a pass, drove the length of the court and was fouled by center Brison Gresham at the rim a fraction of a second before time expired.

Rachal went to the line and calmly made both free throws.

The victory was Tulsa's first over a top-5 team since winning at UCLA in 1996.

The victory lifted Tulsa to 2-1 in the American Conference and 5-3 overall. Houston (2-1, 7-1) had won its first seven games handily, the closest being a nine-point victory over UCF.

Ahead by one at halftime, Tulsa built a six-point advantage several times in the second half. But the Cougars never lost touch, tying the game at 62-all on an offensive rebound by Marcus Sasser.

Rey Idowu made one of two free throws to give Tulsa a 63-62 lead before Mills put the Cougars ahead.

Quentin Grimes led the Cougars with 19 points and seven rebounds. Sassar finished with 14 points and Mills 11 for Houston.

Tulsa clawed back from an early 15-7 deficit, tying the game at 15 on consecutive 3-pointers by Curtis Haywood, who entered shooting 20% from long range. Houston pushed its lead back to five points, but another 3-pointer by Haywood pulled Tulsa within 24-22.

Tulsa took its first lead at 27-26 on 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. A drive by Elijah Joiner bounced four times on the rim before dropping as time expired, giving TU a 31-30 lead at the break.

Houston shot just 38% in the first half, but had nine offensive rebounds and scored nine second-chance points.

The Cougars lead the American Conference in rebounding margin, turnover margin and steals.


Tulsa has consistently outperformed its preseason prognostications in the American, tying for first a year ago after being picked ninth. The Hurricane’s gritty performance against Houston shows TU may be able to better its sixth-place prediction for this season.

Houston shot just 35% from the field, including 19% on 3-pointers (4 of 21) and were unable to overwhelm Tulsa with their physicality, as they have most opponents. They outrebounded Tulsa 38-35.


Houston concludes its three-game road trip at Southern Methodist on Sunday.

Tulsa embarks on a two-game conference road trip at Cincinnati on Saturday, followed by a game at UCF on Wednesday.


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