Tulsa advanced to the Conference USA Championship Game with a 76-69 victory over Middle Tennessee in the C-USA semifinals on Friday afternoon at the Don Haskins Center. James Woodard scored 19 points to lead four players in double-figures.
The Hurricane improved to 20-12 for Tulsa's first 20-win season since the 2009-10 campaign, while MTSU fell to 24-9 on the year. Tulsa plays the winner of the LA Tech-Southern Miss game on Saturday morning with a 9:30 am (MT)/10:30 am (CT) tip time on CBS.
Rashad Smith added 16 points, Tim Peete 11 and Shaquille Harrison 10 for the Hurricane, while MTSU's Neiko Hunter and Jaqawn Raymond scored 19 points apiece to lead the Blue Raiders.
Tulsa made 6-of-8 free throws in the final 0:50, while Peete and Smith had breakaway baskets to hold on for the victory. The Hurricane scored 22 points off turnovers, forcing 21 MTSU miscues, and had a 30-14 scoring advantage in the paint.
Middle Tennessee came out for the second half and out-scored Tulsa 8 to 3 in the first 16 minutes to cut the Hurricane lead to 38-37 at the 15:54 mark. Woodard's second trey of the game put Tulsa back ahead by four points, 41-37.
With Tulsa ahead 45-40, D'Andre Wright fouled out of the game at the 11:15 mark on a foul and technical on the same play, the Blue Raiders cut the Tulsa lead to two points at 45-43 by converting 3-of-4 free throws.
Shaquille Harrison's five foot running jumper made it 48-45, and after a bench technical on Middle Tennessee Woodard knocked down two free throws to put the Hurricane ahead by five, 50-45. The next time down the floor, Raymond's three-pointer cut the MTSU deficit to two points. Harrison made it 53-48 on a traditional three-point play at the 8:36 mark.
Neiko Hunter's trey cut it to a two-point Tulsa lead at 53-51. Tulsa's Tim Peete hit a three-pointer to push the Hurricane lead back to five points 56-51 at the 7:02 mark.
Brandon Swannegan's put-back layup off a missed free throw put the Hurricane ahead by seven points at 59-52 with just over six minutes to play. Harrison's two free throws at the 3:57 mark made the score 62-52.
The Blue Raiders scored out-scored Tulsa 7-1 over the next 1:24 to cut the Hurricane lead to four points at 63-59 at the 2:36 mark. Rashad Smith's layup at the 1:14 mark put Tulsa back ahead 66-59, but MTSU's Raymond made 3-of-3 free throws made the score 66-62 with 1:06 remaining on the game clock.
A fast-break led to a Rashad Smith layup, but another foul down the court but Kerry Hammonds to the line for two shots, but he made 1-of-2, making the score 68-63. One-and-one from Peete at the free throw line made it 69-63, but Hunter scored at the other end on a put-back layup, cutting the lead back to four points for Tulsa.
A Woodard free throw and Smith fast-break layup put Tulsa ahead 72-67 after a Hunter dunk for MTSU. Hunter scored again for the Raiders, making it 72-69 with 0:17 remaining. Woodard made it a five-point game 74-69 on two free throws with 0:12 remaining and then Peete closed it out when he knocked down two free throws with 0:02 on the clock for the seven-point win.
Tulsa began the game shaky as the Hurricane had four turnovers on its first four trips down the floor. Tulsa put its first two points of the game on its fifth possession with a Smith dunk.
Middle Tennessee was hot from the perimeter in the first 10 minutes, knocking down three of its first five treys and had a 20-14 lead at the 10:06 mark. The Hurricane scored the next five points for a 20-19 score, including an acrobatic Woodard layup as he was going to the floor after a foul.
At the eight-minute timeout, MTSU held a 22-19 lead.
Tulsa took the lead 27-26 on a Swannegan layup at the 4:37 mark of the opening 20 minutes for the first time since a 10-8 early lead.
Tulsa closed out the first half out-scoring The Blue Raiders 8-3 to take a 35-29 lead at the intermission. The Hurricane ended the half on an overall 14-3 run.
MTSU cooled down in the first half after a strong shooting start to the game, as the Raiders ended the first 20 minutes shooting 47-percent from the field. Tulsa shot 52.2-percent from the field, but just 20-percent from three-point range, connecting on just 1-of-5 treys.
After committing four turnovers on its first four possessions, Tulsa had just one miscue the rest of the first half while forcing the Blue Raiders into 11 first-half turnovers.
The Hurricane had a balanced first-half scoring attack, led by Woodard's nine points and seven points by Smith. Jaqawn Raymond had nine and Shawn Jones eight points to lead the Blue Raiders.