Starting with a home game on Springfield on Thursday night, Tulsa will play eight games in a 12-day span. It’s a stretch that will test a 17-14 Tulsa team that currently sits six games out of first place in the West Conference. Two of those games are against the Austin Toros, a team that sits ahead of Tulsa in the standings.
“Every game is important, but home games are extremely critical right now,” said Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts, who will watch his team play five of the upcoming eight games at the Tulsa Convention Center, including a home-and-home with Austin. “The break has been good for us. It’s given us a chance to focus on film and work in the weight room. It’s also given us time to really work on the basics and get healthier.”
Health has been a concern for the 66ers of late, with guard Cecil Brown missing time with an ankle injury and forward Latavious Williams missing most of a 113-107 win over Maine after aggravating a shoulder injury. Tibbetts said Brown is still a week or two away from returning, but Williams and his 7.1 rebounds per game should be back to full strength for Thursday night.
Mustafa Shakur continues to lead the 66ers in scoring (20.1 points per game) and assists (6.7 per contest). Larry Owens, coming off a season-high 37 points against Maine, joins Shakur as the only players to start all 31 games for Tulsa this season.
“Since the D-League Showcase in early January, Larry was been playing with more confidence,” Tibbetts said. “He’s a tough matchup for a lot of teams because he can shoot or put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. He’s developed into one of the better players in the league.”
Tibbetts called the 66ers’ most recent win over Maine a “real confidence-builder,” and Tulsa’s confidence is growing during a three-game win streak.
Tulsa scored a season-high 35 points in the first quarter and jumped out to a 21-point first-half lead on its way to the decision over Maine. A big part of Tulsa’s early success came thanks to Owens, who had 23 points in the first half and a critical driving basket with 1:27 to play that helped the 66ers subdue a late Red Claw comeback.
“I was trying to be physical and patient to start the game. I wanted to only take good shots and not rush them,” Owens said. “When you get in a groove, the team puts its energy toward you and that’s what happened early in the game.”
Owens is now averaging 15.8 points and 36.4 minutes per game.