(2) Southern Mississippi 81 (10) East Carolina 78 (OT)
The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles have not "looked" like an NCAA Tournament team in recent weeks, playing scads of close games against mediocre Conference USA opponents, but they are winning enough games to stay on the good side of the bubble and reach their first Big Dance in over two decades. The Golden Eagles once again lived on the edge, but they managed to pull through against the East Carolina Pirates, moving one step closer to the goal they've pursued for so long.
This was a wild affair in which numerous wacky sequences created a prolonged drama inside FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. East Carolina, trailing by three in the final half-minute of regulation, missed two shot attempts but rebounded them both, the second rebound coming on a diving hustle play that somehow prevented the Golden Eagles from snaring the defensive rebound and essentially ending the contest. On the Pirates' third shot, Robert Sampson banged in a three to tie the score with 17 seconds left. Southern Miss's Neil Watson missed a layup on the Golden Eagles' ensuing possession, and the teams went to overtime knotted at 68-apiece. In the final two minutes of overtime, more crazy things kept happening. USM missed two foul shots, and then East Carolina's Miguel Paul (who scored 28 points) improbably missed a layup that would have given his team a three-point lead. Southern Miss took a 78-76 lead with 59 seconds left when Darnell Dodson hit a three-pointer. Paul misfired in the final minute, and the Golden Eagles were able to lock down the win at the foul line. East Carolina finished 15-of-31 from three-point range, while USM registered a plus-18 scoring margin at the foul line, 27 to 9. Southern Miss advances to play Marshall in the semifinals.
(6) Marshall 105 (3) Tulsa 100 (3OT)
The first game of the day session in the quarterfinal round of the Conference USA Tournament went to overtime.
The second game of the day session went to three overtimes. Yes, it was a busy and crowded day for C-USA personnel, who never had a chance to take an extended break between the day session and the night session. The two doubleheaders flowed together since the Marshall Thundering Herd needed more than three hours to finally put away the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and move to the semifinals. Marshall will play Southern Mississippi for the right to contest the C-USA title.
As you can imagine, this was a crazy contest, even more mind-bending than the Southern Miss-East Carolina pulse-pounder. A total of 71 fouls were called in this game, producing 101 foul shots. That's how this game lasted over three hours. Marshall used an offensive rebounding edge of 17 to 8 to gain more possessions than Tulsa. A plus-five turnover margin (15 giveaways to 20 for Tulsa) also helped the Herd, since they were outscored by 12 (40 to 28) at the foul line. DeAndre Kane scored 40 points for Marshall, while teammate Shaquille Johnson added 25, with 14 of those points coming at the charity stripe. Eric McClellan scored 25 points for Tulsa, while Steven Idlet scored 20. Tulsa will at least have a chance to make the NIT, but the Golden Hurricane might have needed this win to feel comfortable about a bid. Marshall probably moved onto the NIT bubble with a win here, but the Herd would probably need to beat Southern Miss to feel safe in that regard.
(1) Memphis 65 (8) UTEP 47
The Memphis Tigers lost at home to the UTEP Miners a few weeks ago. They made sure that they didn't repeat that scenario on Thursday night.
Memphis swarmed UTEP on defense, causing 20 Miner turnovers and creating fast-break opportunities on a few occasions. Memphis held UTEP to 34 percent shooting and only two made three-pointers, thereby minimizing the fact that Memphis hit only three triples of its own. Memphis was led by two standout performers. Forward Tarik Black, who scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, offered muscle in the paint for the top seed in the C-USA Tournament, while guard Joe Jackson scored 17 points, collected five steals, and snagged four rebounds. Memphis, playing on its home court, will now face the Central Florida Golden Knights in the semifinals. Bubble teams will be rooting for Memphis so that Central Florida does not stay in the hunt for an at-large bid.
The Central Florida Golden Knights eased past the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers and into the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament. The Knights earned another shot at the Memphis Tigers and an opportunity to make a final push for an NCAA Tournament bid. Central Florida ended UAB's season with rugged and consistent defense. UCF limited UAB to 29-percent shooting and handcuffed the Blazers at every turn. Central Florida shot 50 percent from the floor and was simply a more efficient team all night long. Four UCF players scored in double figures, with Keith Clanton (14 points, seven rebounds) leading the way.