EL PASO, Texas - The second half was extremely kind to Louisiana Tech during its two wins to advance to the C-USA Championship game.
However on Saturday morning, the second stanza proved costly as the Bulldogs shot just 7-of-30 from the field. Add to that a tournament MVP performance by Tulsa's James Woodard who had a game-high 27 points and it resulted in a 69-60 defeat for the `Dogs inside the Don Haskins Center.
Having played the late game on both Thursday and Friday, LA Tech (27-7) had to rise out of bed early on game day with it being a 9:30 a.m. tipoff.
The legs may have tired down the stretch for the Bulldogs. Tulsa had taken a five-point lead midway through the second half, but Kenyon McNeail hit back-to-back three-pointers to give LA Tech the lead back at 51-50 with 8:15 to go.
The `Dogs then went cold, missing its next five shots and turning it over twice in the process. The Golden Hurricane took advantage as they built a 57-51 lead, the largest lead by either team up to this point.
Two free throws by Speedy cut it to four and then the Bulldogs came away with the steal on the next possession but a running floater by Smith would not fall.
The opposition grabbed the rebound, connecting on back-to-back baskets and then seven consecutive free throws late to give Tulsa the conference tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2003.
"[Tulsa] was really good," said head coach Michael White. "They are a tremendous basketball team. Coach Manning has done a tremendous job and their staff has done a tremendous job. We thought after we beat them in Ruston that we were very fortunate to beat them. We caused so many turnovers, which led to easy ones for us that got us over the hump. We knew how dangerous they were.
"They have continued to improve and they showed the level at which they could defend, which is a very high level. It was on full display today. We shoot 11-of-25 from three and only manage to score 60. You just have to credit them. This wasn't as much about us not doing this or not doing that or us having a bunch of missed opportunities. It was about Tulsa just being very good defensively."
The early wakeup call was not a factor for LA Tech to start as they opened with back-to-back three-pointers compliments of Alex Hamilton and Chris Anderson, but Tulsa responded with a 9-0 run to grab an early 11-6 lead.
The three's continued to fall for the Bulldogs, connecting on five more in the first half including three from the rare shooter Kenneth Smith. However, Tulsa was just as sharp from the field going 13-of-27 led by second team All-Conference USA selectee Woodard.
Neither team had more than a five-point lead as there were seven ties and 10 lead changes in the first half, but the Bulldogs held a slim 35-34 lead going into the locker room.
LA Tech finished with 11 made three-pointers, four apiece from McNeail and Smith. Smith led the team with 16 points and also added in seven assists and four rebounds.
McNeail finished with 15 and Alex Hamilton and Chris Anderson added 12 and 10, respectively. For the game, the Bulldogs shot 32.7 percent from the field (17-of-52).
"We didn't make all the best decisions in terms of shot selection late or in terms of overpressuring defensively when we got behind," said White. "We had a couple of early fouls that were not necessarily what we were looking for. Things like that happen when you're behind, especially when the stage is bigger and things are magnified and it's the championship game. Overall I'm very proud of our guys' effort. I'm blessed to have really good players."
Both Speedy Smith and Alex Hamilton were named to the C-USA All-Tournament team, the only school with two players on it. They joined Tulsa's Woodard as well as USM's Michael Craig and MT's Neiko Hunter.
Along with Woodard, Rashad Ray scored 15 and Shaquille Harrison added 10. As a team, the Golden Hurricane shot 43.4 percent from the field (23-of-53) with 26 points coming in the paint in comparison to the Bulldogs six.
LA Tech now awaits its postseason fate which will be known tomorrow night during the NCAA/NIT selection shows.
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