Tulsa held off Southern Miss' late comeback attempt for a 75-71 victory to move to 2-0 in Conference USA action Sunday afternoon in front of 4,221 fans at the Donald W. Reynolds Center. Tulsa now stands at 7-9 on the season and shares the early lead in C-USA action with 2-0 UTSA and LA Tech, while Southern Miss fell to 14-3 overall and 1-1 in league play.
After taking a 13-point lead in the second half, the Hurricane needed to convert 8-of-10 free throws in the final 1:05 to hold on for the victory. Rashad Ray's two free throws with 0:09 remaining on the clock gave Tulsa its four-point advantage.
Tulsa had four double-figure scorers, led by James Woodard's 18 and Pat Swilling's 17 points. Ray and D'Andre Wright added 10 points for the Hurricane, while Jerrold Brooks led four double-digit scorers for the Golden Eagles with 15 points.
"We played a great game today on the defensive side of the ball and executed when it counted. Both teams really put everything into the game. There was a high level of intensity and a lot of effort. At the end of the day, I thought it was a pretty fun game," said Tulsa Head Coach Danny Manning. "We went into the game knowing that this was going to be a defensive battle. It was going to be a grind. Southern Miss is physical and plays great defense and to beat them is big."
Tulsa went out to a seven-point lead, 39-32, in the first three minutes of the second half before Southern Miss cut the Hurricane lead to three points at 41-38 on a Daveon Boardingham jumper at the 14:44 mark.
With Tulsa holding the three-point lead, Swilling's three-pointer with 13:35 left on the clock began a 10-0 run. The Hurricane built a 51-38 lead at the 11:32 mark as another Swilling three-pointer gave Tulsa its 51 points.
Swilling was just 4-of-12 from three-point range, but each of his treys ignited momentum for the Hurricane.
"Pat has a short memory. That is the way all good shooters are. They just can't remember their misses. Pat has that mentality. Every shot is a new experience. He takes tough shots. We always want him to be aggressive, and he certainly was today," added Manning.
USM kept scratching and coming up with timely three-pointers to slice the Hurricane lead to single digits as a Brooks three-pointer made it a seven-point game at the 8:17 mark. The Tulsa lead stayed between four and nine points until a Michael Craig follow-up layup made it a two-point game at 73-71 with 0:10 left on the clock. Tulsa inbounded the ball to Ray who was fouled and subsequently connected on the game-winning free throws.
Both teams hit three-pointers to start the game as USM's Aaron Brown connected first and Tulsa's Tim Peete knocked down Tulsa's first basket at the 17:19 mark. Peete's trey tied the score at three for the first of six ties in the first half. Each team's largest first-half lead was four points in a half that saw 22 fouls called and 24 free throws. Southern Miss connected on 67-percent from the line, while Tulsa hit 7-of-11 for 64 percent.
The defensive pressure by the two teams resulted in poor first-half shooting, USM hitting on 31-percent and Tulsa knocking in 37-percent of their field goals.
With Tulsa leading by one point as time neared expiration in the first half, Swilling launched a 29-footer at the buzzer to put the Hurricane ahead by four going into the locker room at 32-28. Swilling's last second buzzer-beater proved to be three critical points in the four-point Tulsa win.
Swilling led all scorers with 11 first-half points and led a Hurricane bench that scored 20 of Tulsa's 32 points. James Woodard added nine points and shared the team-lead with D'Andre Wright in rebounding with five.
Southern Miss had three players with six points in the first half, including Aaron Brown, Michael Craig and Daveon Boardingham.