Tulsa coach Frank Haith believes Junior Etou can be a force on offense regardless of where he is on the court and made it clear to his 6-8, 235-pound senior forward about how he felt. Coming off one of the finest games of his college career, the 23-year native of the Congo will attempt to prove his fourth-year head coach right again Thursday when the Golden Hurricane square off against Western Michigan in first-round action of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Carson, S.C.
Etou missed his only field-goal attempt, got into early foul trouble and committed five turnovers in Tulsa’s season-opening 74-67 loss to Lamar, but he rebounded in a big way in Monday’s victory over Oral Roberts, going 11-for-13 from the field (2-of-3 beyond the arc) and pouring in 30 points - one shy of his career high. “(Haith) challenged me. After the first game we lost, he came up to me and talked to me. As a leader of this team, a senior, (he told me to) be aggressive coming out tonight,” Etou told the Tulsa World. Etou will likely need to be at his best again versus the Broncos, who are considered the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference this season. Western Michigan pummeled NAIA foe Siena Heights by 31 in its season opener before dropping a 78-60 decision at South Carolina on Monday.
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ABOUT TULSA (1-1): A career 39.7-percent shooter entering this season, junior guard Sterling Taplin (team-high 17.5 points) is once again off to a poor start from an efficiency perspective, connecting on only 13 of his 32 field-goal attempts and one of his eight 3-point attempts. Etou led the Golden Hurricane in scoring (12.6 points) and rebounding (6.7) in 2016-17 and was the only player to start all 32 games, leading to second-team American Athletic Conference recognition in the preseason. “We want him to touch (the ball) all over the court, not just in the paint, but off the block, making 3s, driving it and obviously on the post-up. Junior is capable of scoring at all three levels,” Haith told the Tulsa World.
ABOUT WESTERN MICHIGAN (1-1): The Broncos are led by 6-3 senior guard Thomas Wilder (18.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 steals), a preseason All-MAC West selection who stuffed the stat sheet against the Gamecocks, finishing with 23 points, four assists, three rebounds and a career-high tying six steals. Top reserve Josh Davis was the only other Western Michigan player to have much of an impact Monday, contributing 11 points, eight boards and three blocks before fouling out in only 20 minutes of action. At 6-10 and 240 pounds, Drake LaMont will likely be tasked checking Etou at least some of the time, although the Broncos need him to contribute more like he did against Siena Heights (10 points) and less like he did in a scoreless effort versus South Carolina.
1. Haith is returning to this event for the first time since he led Miami (Fla.) to the tournament title in its first year of existence in 2007.
2. The Broncos have yet to commit 10 turnovers in a game while forcing an average of 15.5 miscues.
3. The winner of this contest will face either Iowa State or Appalachian State in the semifinals.
PREDICTION: Western Michigan 78, Tulsa 72