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Tulsa Marches On To NCAA Tournament

James Woodard was once again special, leading Tulsa past La. Tech 69-60 to capture the 2014 Conference USA Tournament title.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sp

For the first time since 2003, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

Playing its signature defense that has earned that title over the past 11 games, the Golden Hurricane held La. Tech to less than 20 points fewer than their season average in front of 4,870 fans.

There were no championship game jitters for either team to start this one.

Both teams came out firing with great success from deep. La. Tech found 7 of their first 10 attempts from three at the bottom of the net, while Tulsa was also 4/6 from deep, scoring 14 points in the paint compared to only 4 points by La. Tech.

The Golden Hurricane jumped out to an early 11-6 lead with 16:18 left, though La. Tech had an answer.

After a pair of Chris Anderson free throws, Kenyon McNeail tied things up at 11 with the first of his two triples, scoring 8 points in the first half.

Things were tied up seven times, and the lead changed hands ten times in a college basketball eye candy of a first half.

Kenneth Smith was again a factor from deep for the second straight night for the Bulldogs.

The Conference USA Defensive Player of the year went 3/3 from behind the three point line in the first half, including a triple that broke a 20 all tie at 7:18 mark, only leading to James Woodard answering with a triple of his own on the ensuing Tulsa possession.

Second half action started a little slow, both teams were 2/7 in the opening minutes, but a key couple of plays opened things up for Tulsa, helping them fit their dancing shoes.

A turnover miscue by Kenneth Smith lead to a Tulsa fast break, finished by a Shaquille Harrison layup that brought Tulsa back within a bucket. Then after Chris Anderson missed a forced three-pointer with a hand in his face, Rashad Ray got to the rim for a deuce, changing the tide, and giving Tulsa a slim 43-42 lead at the 14:03.

La. Tech senior guard Kenyon McNeail played like a senior who did not want to miss an opportunity to break a more than 20 year NCAA tournament drought in Ruston.

McNeail ended up with 15 points, including a huge three pointer with 8:15 left that put La. Tech back ahead, 51-50.

But that would be the last field goal the Bulldogs would muster in a seven minute stretch that would propel Tulsa on a 15-3 run, lasting until Smith drained another triple to bring La. Tech within seven at 65-58 with 47 seconds left, but the damage had been done thanks to Tulsa contesting every La. Tech look from the field.

Woodard garnered MVP honors, scoring 27 points in the title game, including four straight free throws in the final minute that got the party started back in Tulsa, he was also 4/5 from deep.

Rashad Ray finished with 15 points, Shaq Harrison was solid, scoring 10 points, and doing the dirty work on the boards with 8 rebounds.

Four Bulldogs scored in double figures led by Smith with 16 points, he also had 7 assists, but La. Tech shot 23.3 percent in the second half, and were out scored 26-6 in the paint in the game.

Tulsa also snapped a 24 game win streak that La. Tech had when they held a halftime lead.

If there was any consolation for the Bulldogs, Kenneth Smith and Alex Hamilton were name to the all-tournament team, Hamilton finished with 12 points, but committed 4 turnovers Saturday.

Tulsa will now represent the Conference USA for the first time as the automatic bid, their opponent will be announced during Selection Sunday.