James Woodard scored 19 points, recorded 3 steals, leading second seed Tulsa past Middle Tennessee 76-69 in Friday's semi-final.
Tulsa forced 21 Middle Tennessee turnovers that lead to 22 points, as the Golden Hurricane defended their way to a tenth straight win.
The Golden Hurricane actually found themselves down 20-14 after the Blue Raiders' Shawn Jones converted a pair of free throws at the 10:06 mark.
Then Tulsa turned up the defense.
Lead by the tough defensive trio of Woodard, Tim Peete, and Rashad Ray, Tulsa went on to out score Middle Tennessee 29-17 after facing that early six point deficit, to take a six point 43-37 lead after Rashad Ray laid one in, twisting his way for the tough deuce with 13:29 to go in the second half.
The trio helped force Middle Tennessee point guard Tweety Knight into seven turnovers.
Middle Tennessee would not go quietly, Jaqawn Raymond buried a triple to bring Middle Tennesse within two, then after Shaquille Harrison completed a three point play, Neiko Hunter drained another trifecta to again bring the Blue Raiders within a bucket, 53-51 with 8:18 left.
Tulsa would build the lead back to ten after a pair of free throws from Harrison with under four minutes left. Tulsa was not bothered by the pressure the Blue Raiders implemented down the stretch, bullying their way to the free throw line 39 times, 28 of those attempts came from the afore mentioned Tulsa trio of guards.
Middle Tennessee kept chipping away despite Tulsa's surge, Hunter brought the Blue Raiders back within four, 69-65 with a layup with 40 seconds left, giving the Raiders hope, but still needing defensive stops.
Though Tulsa connected on five straight free throws in those final 40 seconds to assure themselves a chance to dance with a date in tomorrows final.
Four players scored in double figures for Tulsa, Rashad Smith had 16 points, Harrison finised with 10, and Tim Peete was 6/8 from the free throw line, chipping in 11 points.
Middle Tennesse got 19 points from Raymond, and Neiko Hunter who also recorded a double-double with 10 boards.
The Blue Raiders also shot 8/20 from behind the three point line, but could not over come the tight defense Tulsa was playing on the perimeter, coughing up the ball, and a chance at a tournament title.
Kerry Hammonds II was the only other Blue Raider who scored in double figures with 11, but was just 2/8 from field, attributing to the 35 percent shooting for Middle Tennessee in the second half.
Tulsa will now await the winner between La. Tech, and Southern Miss., the championship game is slated for 9:30 am Mountain Time, in front of a National TV audience on CBS.
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