TULSA, Okla. –– Lawson Korita scored a career-best 20 points on Senior Day as Tulsa closed out the home season with a 65-54 win over UCF Saturday night in front of 5,304 fans at the Donald W. Reynolds Center.
The senior knocked down 7-of-9 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range and also converted 3-of-4 free throws for his new career-high, bettering his previous career-best of 16 points.
Juniors Jeriah Horne and Brandon Rachal added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Tulsa connected on 43-percent of its field goals, 45-percent from 3-point range and out-rebounded the Knights 30-22. The Hurricane had a 14-0 edge in second-chance points and a 27-12 advantage for points scored off turnovers.
The win gave Tulsa its 20th win of the year and clinched at least the No. 3-seed at the American Athletic Conference tournament. Tulsa (20-9, 12-4 AAC) sits atop The American by a ½ game, while the two 11-4 teams, Houston and Cincinnati, square-off tomorrow in Texas.
UCF, which fell to 14-14 overall and 5-11 in league play, were led by Brandon Mahan's 15 points.
Leading by 6 at halftime, Horne began the second-half with a 3-pointer to put the Hurricane ahead by 9 points. Tulsa built the lead to 13 points at the 11:48 mark when Horne knocked through another trey for a 47-34 lead.
Tulsa kept its lead between 9 and 13 points over the next 3:20 of the game before three UCF 3-pointers cut an 11-point lead to just 2 points, 53-51, with 3:59 remaining in the contest.
Korita responded with a trey of his own at the 2:28 mark to put the Hurricane back up by 5 points at 56-51. Three Mahan free throws brought the Knights to within 2 points again with 2:04 on the game clock. But, it was Korita again that pushed Tulsa's lead to 4 points, this time he hit a 2-pointer from just outside the paint.
In the final 0:46, Elijah Joiner converted 4-of-4 free throws to increase Tulsa's lead to 8 points, while a Korita fast-break layup and free throw gave Tulsa the 11-point victory.
The game began slow as only 8 total points were scored in the first 5:45 of the contest. Martins Igbanu had all 6 of Tulsa's early points for a 6-2 Hurricane lead.
The Tulsa defense was on-point in the first half. The Hurricane held UCF to zero field goals in a span of 6:44 in the first half, from its last basket a 3-pointer scored at the 12:03 mark to a 3-pointer at the 5:19 mark, and the Knights had only one free throw during that time span as well.
The Hurricane increased its lead of 11-9 to 20-10 during the Knights scoring drought.
UCF went on a streak of its own though, cutting the 10-point Hurricane lead to 3 points on a 9-2 run to make the score 22-19 with 1:15 left on the game clock.
Tulsa closed out the half with a 27-21 lead, as Korita had 8 points to lead the Hurricane. Both teams struggled from the perimeter in the first 20 minutes as Tulsa connected on just 10-of-30 from the field for 33 percent and UCF shot 35-percent on 8-of-23 from the field.
Tulsa closes out the regular season with two road games, coming first in Philadelphia, Pa., against the Temple Owls on Wednesday, March 4, and then next Sunday, March 8, across the Kansas border at Wichita State.
The American Athletic Conference Championship will take place March 12-15, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. For tickets, fans can call the TU athletic ticket office at 918.631.GoTU (4688).