Feb. 28, 2009
NEW ORLEANS - Junior guard Kevin Sims led four Tulane players into double figures with 22 points and the Green Wave sent its 2008-09 senior class out in style with a win by outlasting the UTEP Miners in the final minute, 86-77, in front of 2,170 at Fogelman Arena.
Tulane (13-15, 7-8 C-USA) chalked up its third straight win of the year, its longest win streak this season, and posted its 10th home win of the season, which marks the third straight year the Green Wave has notched 10 or more victories on its home floor.
Tulane was guilty of just two miscues in the first half, but the Miners turned to its full-court pressure to climb back into the game in the second half and forced the Wave into seven turnovers by the midway point of the period. Randy Culpepper keyed the comeback with five baskets, including a pair of three-pointers. His fourth trey of the game brought the Miners to within seven-points, its closest since the early minutes of the opening period, at the 10:55 mark.
The two teams then traded baskets over the next two minutes before the Miners sent the Wave to the free-throw line on four straight possessions. Tulane made the most of its free points by hitting eight straight free throws and rebuilt a double figure lead with a 15-point advantage with 7:38 to play.
TU looked to be in good shape heading down the stretch, leading by as many as 16 points with 3:22 remaining, but UTEP rallied behind Culpepper and Stefon Jackson, Conference USA's all-time leading scorer, who helped spark a 16-4 run in the closing moments. The spurt began with three straight Miner treys from Tavaris Watts, Julyan Stone and Culpepper. Jackson then scored seven points in a span of 40 seconds and his jumper with 59-seconds remaining brought UTEP to within four points at 79-75.
Following a turnover when Sims stepped on the end-line trying to get around the press, Jackson missed a jumper that would have drew his team to within two points, and sophomore Kris Richard grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. Richard hit both charity shots and Culpepper misfired on a long three-pointer on UTEP's ensuing possession. McQueen hit both free throws to give the Wave some breathing room with an eight point lead in the final 40 seconds.
"What a great win for our team at this time of the year," Tulane head coach Dave Dickerson said. "We're playing some of our best basketball of the season right now and that's a credit to our seniors, Robinson Louisme and Daniel Puckett. Those guys have done a great job over the last two weeks of leading the right way and our team has followed their leadership and here we are. We've won three out of our last four games and we are heading into the stretch with hopefully a top-half of the conference finish, which no one would have given us early in the year. I am very, very proud of our effort and the way we played tonight.
"A lot of people give Fogelman Arena a bad rap, but this is an unbelievable place when you have people in it. Our crowds may be late arriving, but when they are here it is one of the best home courts in Conference USA. I love playing in Fogelman Arena and I know our guys feel very comfortable here, and without the Fogelman Arena crowd tonight we would not have won this game, so give this win to the Fogelman Arena fans."
Sims registered his sixth 20-point outing of the year, while McQueen finished with a double-double, scoring 10 points and collecting a game-high 11 rebounds. Richard added 11 points and swiped two steals, while senior Robinson Louisme rang up 15 points in his final appearance on his home floor.
Jackson led all scorers with 23 points, while Culpepper came off the bench to contribute 22 points and Watts added 13 points. UTEP forced TU into 13 second-half turnovers and outscored the Wave on the break, 21-6, which mostly came in the second half.
The game was marred with 51 total fouls and the two teams combined for 64 free throw attempts. Tulane shot better than 51 percent from the field, including 50 percent from behind the arc, and 81.6 percent from the foul line, while the Wave defense held UTEP to a 37.9 percent effort from the field, and the Miners shot 73.1 percent from the free-throw line. The battle on the boards was even at 37 apiece.
Tulane torched the nets in the first half, hitting 57.7 percent of its field goal attempts, and dominated the paint by outscoring the Miners, 14-4. Sims led the way with 15 points, hitting all five of his field goal attempts, including three three-pointers. He drilled back-to-back treys in the opening moments to help the Wave build an early lead.
UTEP entered the game averaging 75 points per game on the year, but the Wave defense held the Miners to just six field goals during the first half. Tulane took advantage of its opponents' dry spell when junior Asim McQueen's jumper sparked a 15-5 run that culminated with a short jumper from senior Daniel Puckett that gave the Wave a 13-point advantage at the 7:50 mark.
Jackson snapped the spurt with a jumper, which was the Miner's first field goal in nine minutes. The half then turned into a free throw shooting contest with the two teams combining for 29 free throw attempts. Despite its poor field goal shooting, UTEP managed to stay in the game by connecting on 14-of-18 of its attempts, while Tulane converted 8-of-11 of its charity shots.
The Green Wave took its largest lead of the game when sophomore Johnny Mayhane hit a short jumper from the free-throw line to hand the home team a 41-26 advantage with 34-seconds remaining in the period. Watts was fouled in the waning seconds by sophomore David Booker on a drive to the basket and Watts drilled by free throws to bring the Miners to within 13 points, 41-28, at the break.