March 8, 2008
NEW ORLEANS -Senior Donnavan Stith sank two game-winning free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining and classmate David Gomez registered a double-double with 21 points and 16 rebounds to lead Tulane to a 77-75 thrilling victory over East Carolina in the regular season finale in front of a raucous crowd of 2,167 at Fogelman Arena.
With the win, Tulane wrapped up a ninth place finish in Conference USA play and secured a winning season for the second straight year with its 16th victory. This year's campaign, coupled with last year's 17-13 overall record, marks the first time since 1995-96 and 1996-97 that the Green Wave has produced winning seasons in consecutive years.
The Green Wave (16-14, 6-10 C-USA) will open the 2008 Conference USA Tournament on Wednesday, March 12 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. (CST). TU's opponent will be determined later tonight.
"I am very proud of our team and our seniors for having the fortitude, toughness and the character to stick with it and stay together," Tulane head coach Dave Dickerson said. "I have seen a lot of teams in the ACC, the Colonial Conference, the Big South and in Conference USA, all the conferences I have either played or coached in, that would have quit on the season. Our guys showed a lot of character to stay with it and try and pull out a tough win. My hat's off to our seniors. We would not have won this game if we did not have these seniors in our program."
Tulane was forced to overcome a barrage a three-pointers from East Carolina (11-18, 5-11 C-USA). The Pirates connected on 23 field goals for the game and 13 of those were from long distance. ECU finished 13-of-28 from behind the three-point line. Darrell Jenkins was a forced the entire game, hitting eight treys and finishing with a game-best 30 points.
With the game tied at 71 apiece, sophomore Eric Vianney found himself in the limelight when he made consecutive trips to the foul line and came away four straight makes to give TU a 75-71 lead with just over two minutes to play.
But once again Jenkins erased the Green Wave's new-found momentum with his eighth trey of the contest that brought ECU to within a point at 75-74 with 2:02 remaining in the contest.
Tulane held on to a one-point lead heading into the final minute, but Jenkins was fouled by Gomez on a drive to the basket. Jenkins hit one of two charity shots to tie the game at 75-75 with 34.4 seconds showing on the game clock.
Following a timeout, Tulane held for the last shot and Stith found himself holding the ball with time winding down on his final appearance as a Green Wave player in Fogelman Arena. Stith faked to his left and spun to his right and attempted a left-handed jumper. However, he was fouled on the attempt by John Fields and had a chance to send his classmates out on a winning note with two free throws.
Stith sank the first try and East Carolina called a timeout in attempt to ice the senior. But, today belonged to Tulane and its senior trio, and Stith's second shot splashed the bottom of the net. ECU's Cory Farmer attempt at the buzzer didn't come close to its mark.
"Before I walked up to the free-throw line, I told myself we have to win this game and I have to do whatever it takes to make that happen. I stepped up, took my time, and knocked them down," Stith said.
Gomez, Stith and Matt Wheaton, the 2008 senior class, came up big. The group combined for 41 of TU's 77 points and 23 of the Wave's 33 total rebounds. Gomez registered his eighth career double-double and his 16 rebounds were a career high. He tallied 16 points and nine rebounds in the first half alone.
Stith finished with a season-best 17 points and added six rebounds, five assists, and hit 10-of-11 free throws. Wheaton contributed three points, but his lone three-pointer near the midway point helped TU regain a lead.
Junior Robinson Louisme and sophomore Kevin Sims also finished in double figures with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Tulane and East Carolina both shot 46 percent from the field and 80 percent or better from the free-throw line, but the Green Wave held a 33-24 advantage on the boards.
Jenkins continued to have the hand when he opened the second half with his sixth three-pointer and Gabe Blair hit a jumper to give East Carolina a 43-42 lead. Stith regained the lead for the Wave with a pair of free throws and Louisme broke free for a reverse lay-up to push Tulane out to a three-point advantage during the opening minutes.
Jenkins tied the contest at 48-48 with his seventh trey of the game and Fields once again gave ECU the lead with a short jumper that made the score 50-48. The Pirates then came up with a steal on the inbounds pass and Sam Hinnant was fouled on a three-point attempt, which sent him to the free throw line. Hinnant sank two of three shots, giving ECU a four-point lead, which marked its largest of the game.
Tulane quickly regrouped when Louisme hit a short basket and Stith found the back of the net on a pull-up jumper to tie the contest at 52 all at the 12:29 mark. However, Fields rebounded a missed shot on the other end and regained a 54-52 lead for the visitors, but Stith once again came to the rescue for the Wave when he tipped in a missed shot and knotted the game at 54-54 near the midway point of the second period.
The teams continued to trade the lead until Wheaton drilled a timely three-pointer and Sims connected on two free throws to put the home team up 59-56 with under nine minutes to play. Following an ECU, foul Gomez converted one of two charity shots for a four-point advantage.
The Pirates then reeled off five straight points to retake a brief lead. The two teams continued to exchange baskets, and the lead, for the next three minutes. The contest remained deadlocked at 68-68 with 3:50 remaining. Tulane regained an advantage when Stith was fouled on a three-point attempt and he hit all three shots for a three-point lead, but Jenkins hit one of two free throws to once again tie the game at 71 apiece.
Along with Jenkins, Hinnant was the only other Pirate to reach double figures with 15 points. ECU has now lost seven straight to the Green Wave and remains winless in New Orleans.
Tulane came out firing during the first three minutes of the game. The Green Wave reeled off eight straight points before Taylor Gagnon answered for East Carolina with a three-pointer to make the score 8-3. Stith and Jenkins each traded three-pointers and Sims nailed a pull-up jumper to give TU a 13-6 lead. Stith then connected on two free throws following an ECU foul to push the Wave's lead to nine points, 15-6, at the 13:40 mark.
The Pirates responded when Jenkins struck once again from long distance and Hinnant nailed two free throws to draw to within four points, 15-11.
Following a pair of jumpers from Louisme, East Carolina once again answered the call behind a jumper from James Legan and a pair of three-pointers from Hinant, which tied the game at 19 apiece with over 11 minutes remaining in the opening period. Five of ECU's first six baskets in the first half were three-pointers.
Gomez regained the lead for Tulane when he hit an up-and-under lay-up near the midway point, sparking a 12-2 run. Following Gomez's lead, Louisme nailed a short jumper, but was fouled in the act of shooting. He hit the ensuing free throw for the conventional three-point play and gave the Wave a 24-19 lead.
Jamar Abrams answered for the Pirates, but Sims came through once again with a long three-pointer to extend TU's lead to 27-21 with eight minutes to play. Gomez continued the run with a pair of baskets. His second make gave Tulane a 10-point lead at the 7:02 mark. Gomez then drilled four straight free throws around an ECU basket and his last two extended Tulane's lead to 12 point, 37-25, at 5:11.
Facing it largest deficit of the game, Jenkins rallied the Pirates with three straight treys and a pair of free throws during a 13-5 ECU spurt, but the Green Wave held on for a 42-38 lead at intermission. TU's 42 first half points was the most during the opening 20 minutes this season.