TULSA, Okla. (AP) —
The final play wasn’t quite what Tulsa drew up. It was, though, more than Elijah Joiner ever could’ve imagined.
With his father watching him play in college for the first time, Joiner caught an inbounds pass with 3.3 seconds left, raced from one key to the other and hit an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired, lifting Tulsa over No. 23 Wichita State 54-51 Saturday.
Joiner’s shot touched off a wild celebration as hundreds of students stormed the court. Later, the junior guard sobbed in the interview room, saying how much it meant for his father to witness the game.
Joiner grew up in Chicago with his mother and stepdad, and only recently has begun to reestablish a relationship with his father. Joiner put on a terrific show at the Reynolds Center, then unabashedly showed how much it meant after the game.
“I never pictured this moment with my father here for the first time,” he said with tears streaming. “It meant so much to me to see him in the crowd. He’s here and I’m just so happy he’s here.”
Joiner shot 5-for-6 on 3s and scored 22 points for Tulsa (15-6, 7-1 AAC), which won its sixth in a row. In its previous home game, the Hurricane routed then-No. 20 Memphis 80-40.
Martins Igbanu, who tied the score at 51 with two free throws with 43 seconds left, had 10 points for Tulsa.
Joiner said Igbanu was the first option on Tulsa’s final play. But Brandon Rachel found Joiner instead and he raced from his own foul line to just outside the 3-point line before making the leaning, contested shot at the buzzer.
“Our strength is in numbers,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “We have a lot of guys who can make plays, but tonight it was Elijah’s turn. He was truly outstanding tonight and we needed every point he made.”
The veteran coach called it the most dramatic game-winning shot he’s witnessed.
“Congratulations to Tulsa,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “Tulsa made the plays you have to make. They made 50% of their 3s (7 of 14). Joiner goes 5 of 6 and makes a beautiful shot at the end.”
Jaime Enchinique scored 15 for Wichita State (17-4, 5-3), but only two in the second half.
Erik Stevenson missed a 3-pointer for Wichita State with 22 seconds left and teammate Jamaris Burton snared the rebound. The Shockers went for the last shot but never took it, incurring a shot clock violation with 3.3 seconds left, setting up Joiner’s play.
The contest was tight, physical and hotly contested throughout. Wichita State’s largest lead was six while Tulsa never led by more than three.
Wichita State held Tulsa leading scorer Brandon Rachel to two points on 1-of-10 shooting. The Shockers limited Tulsa to 37.2% shooting (16-43) but made just 34.5% of their own (20-58).
The game may have rekindled the long rivalry in the 131st meeting between the schools. Wichita State brought at least 2,000 fans and had won 13 of the previous 14 meetings. The Shockers lead the overall series 69-62.
Tulsa: The Hurricane, picked to finish 10th in the 12-team league, has only a blowout loss at Cincinnati as a blemish on its league record. The Hurricane held firm against a physical Wichita State team.
Wichita State: The Shockers failed to get the ball inside in the second half against Tulsa’s matchup zone defense, instead settling for a 31 3-point attempts, only six of which went in. … The Shockers had 15 offensive rebounds, but only a 35-34 advantage overall on the boards over the smaller Hurricane.
Tulsa players wore T-shirts in warmups with the words “Mamba Mentality” to honor the late Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe played to win, he was relentless and he never flinched,” Haith said. “That’s the Mamba Mentality. We want our guys to embrace life and embrace their opportunities.”
Wichita State: Returns home to face Cincinnati on Thursday.
Tulsa: Hosts UConn on Thursday. The Hurricane won at Connecticut 79-75 in overtime on Jan. 26.