March 11, 2009
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Tulane junior guard Kevin Sims led all scorers and tied his career high with 23 points and the Green Wave knocked down 52.1 percent of its field goals, including eight three pointers, to dispatch East Carolina, 69-59, in the first round of the 2009 Conference USA Tournament at the FedExForum.
With the win, Tulane (14-16) advances to Thursday's quarterfinal action and will play No. 4/3 Memphis at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on Comcast Sports South, which is available on Charter Cable in New Orleans.
The Green Wave led by nine points at intermission, and outscored East Carolina (13-17), 17-9, to open the second half. TU built a 17-point advantage when senior Daniel Puckett was fouled on a made jumper and he converted the free throw for the conventional three-point play with 12:27 remaining in the contest and Tulane looked to have the game in hand.
But the Pirates had other ideas and scraped their way back into the contest by using an 11-0 spurt behind five points from Darrius Morrow. Chris Turner's three-pointer with 7:07 left in the game brought ECU to within six points at 51-45.
On the ensuing possession, Sims buried the first of back-to-back three-pointers and he then connected on a pair of free throws as part of a 10-0 run by the Green Wave and pushed the lead back to double figures. Morrow snapped the spurt with a lay-up at 3:52, but East Carolina was not able to slice the lead back to single digits until Sam Hinnant knocked down a pair of charity shots with 38-seconds remaining. The Pirates were forced to foul in the final seconds and Puckett hit 2-of-3 free throws down the stretch for the final margin.
Tulane improves to 4-0 in Conference USA Tournament opening round games under fourth-year head coach Dave Dickerson, and will face the Tigers in the C-USA Tourney for the fourth straight year.
"Well, obviously for us, this is a really good win," Dickerson said. "I thought we came out really strong in the beginning of the game, played hard and played smart. Then, in the middle of the first half, we made some unforced turnovers and really didn't defend the way we should have. But, I thought our guys did a really good job for the last 30 minutes of the game, except for the rebounding in the second half. To see this team play this well this late in the season is really gratifying for the coaching staff.
Sims reached the 20-point plateau for the seventh time this season and nailed a career-best five treys on 5-of-7 attempts. He also added four free throws, six assists and one steal in 35 minutes. Tulane committed just nine turnovers, while forcing East Carolina into 14 miscues and shot 66.7 percent from behind the three-point line.
"I got off to a slow start at the beginning of the game," Sims said. "When I went to the bench, I got my mind back together. I shot the ball really well tonight and did a good job of finding my teammates. That pretty much got me going for the rest of the game."
Hinnant led ECU with 16 points, while Morrow notched a double-double with 13 points and a game-best 11 rebounds.
Tulane opened the game with a 7-2 run behind five quick points from Kris Richard, but the sophomore was whistled for his second foul on a charging call and spent the final 15:10 in a spectator role on the bench. East Carolina took advantage of Richard's absence and reeled off a 15-6 run over the next eight minutes behind nine points from James Abrams and three three-pointers, including the last one in the run by Turner, who gave the Pirates a seven point lead, their largest of the period, with 7:36 remaining in the half.
Following a lay-up from TU junior Eric Vianney that cut the lead to five points, Hinnant hit a floater in the lane to extend the lead back to seven points at 23-16.
But Tulane responded behind Sims, who finished the half with 10 points. His trey at the 5:15 mark sparked a 16-0 run that saw him drain two three-pointers and sophomore Johnny Mayhane canned a trey from the right side to continue the spurt. The Green Wave defense did not allow East Carolina a field goal during the final 5:44, and by the time Morrow scored the Pirates first points in nearly four minutes on a pair of free throws, TU led by nine points.
Morrow's two charity shots drew the Pirates to within seven points, but a Sims jumper from just inside of the top of the key extended the Wave's lead back to nine points and Tulane led 34-25 at the break.
"Well, you know, this is March Madness. And, if you look at conference tournaments around the country, you see this happening. And, we're excited about playing a team as good as Memphis. Memphis is very good and I'm pretty sure they're going to come out tomorrow and play their `A' game. But, our guys will compete for 40 minutes, and we are going to play hard," Dickerson said.