A jumper by Scottie Haralson put the Golden Hurricane (14-12 overall, 6-6 in Conference USA) up 56-51 with 6:41 left in the game.
But over two minutes later, TU was down 61-56 after giving up a 10-0 run to the Pirates.
Scottie Haralson hit a 3-point dish to bring Tulsa to within 63-61 with 2:21 left in the game. But East Carolina scored the next seven points, including two free throws from Akeem Richmond with 25 seconds left.
Tulsa fell behind 26-13 in the first half as the Pirates forced turnovers, getting some fast break points in the process.
A 3-point dish from the Pirates’ Akeem Richardson increased the visitors’ lead to 31-17. But the Golden Hurricane bounced back with a 12-3 run to trail 34-29 at halftime.
The Golden Hurricane stormed out the gates to start the second half. They took their first lead since early in the game at when Pat Swilling Jr. drilled a with 13:18 left in the game. That put TU up 43-42.
"East Carolina came out and threw the first punch and we didn't recover too well. They were more aggressive than us in the first half and we were able to go on a little bit of the run and get within striking distance at halftime," said Tulsa coach Danny Manning.
"We came back out in the second half and we went on a run, and it becomes a nip and tuck game. Then Akeem Richmond shakes loose for two threes back-to-back and that put us behind the eight-ball and we weren't able to get back from that. I have to give East Carolina credit to come in and get a road win but for us this was a game we really wanted. We're in a dog fight in the conference standings and it would have been nice to have the tie-breaker with East Carolina."
TU is now is sixth place in Conference USA.
Haralson led TU with 20 points, Kauri Black scored 13 and Pat Swilling Jr. finished with 11.
The Golden Hurricane finished with 42 percent (25-of-60) shooting, 39 percent (7-of-18) from 3-point range and 32 percent (6-of-19) from the free throw line.
The Pirates shot 40 percent (23-of-57) from the floor, 27 percent (8-of-30) in 3s and 75 percent (18-of-24) in free throws.
East Carolina had a 41-39 rebounding edge on Tulsa.
Tulsa will meet UCF on the road Saturday. Tip-off is at 3 p.m. central time.