Tulane tuned up for the best of the best by playing one of the worst of the worst.
Two days before facing preseason No. 1 and current 11th-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill on ESPN2, the Green Wave entertained winless Prairie View on Monday night at Devlin Fieldhouse and did little right until the final seven minutes.
Prairie View, which had lost seven times by at least 13 points on a nearly endless road trip to start the season, took a second-half lead for the first time since Nov. 21 against Radford and remained within striking distance deep into the game before Tulane pulled away to win 63-49.
Louis Dabney scored a season-high 24 points, carrying the Wave (6-4) to its first win in three tries against opponents from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. But Alabama A&M and Southern, which beat Tulane earlier this year, are a combined 11-4.
Prairie View (0-9) had fallen by 41 to Houston, 39 to Baylor and 25 to Virginia Commonwealth.
Dabney made sure the Wave did not become the Panthers’ first victim. He hit a 3-pointer as Tulane, which trailed 25-24 early in the second half, took the lead for good, 33-30, with 13:25 left. He drained another 3 to make the score 41-30 and ran off five points in a row after Prairie View pulled with 42-38.
This time, the Panthers had no answer.
Freshman Melvin Frazier gave the Wave a 49-38 lead with a transition dunk. Guard Cameron Reynolds then had back-to-back baskets as Tulane took its largest lead, 55-41, under the 3-minute mark.
With starting point guard Malik Morgan in early foul trouble, the Wave struggled to find any rhythm.
Dabney, who hit 6 of 12 shots and sank all nine of his free throws, was the only Tulane player in double figures for points. Dylan Osetkowski had 11 rebounds, and Jernard Jarreau added five blocks.
The Wave went 23 of 52 overall and only 4 of 20 from 3-point range.
Admassu Williams led Prairie View with 13 points and Zachary Hamilton added 11, but they did it while combining to make 6 of 25 shots.
If Tulane was trying to give the Tar Heels a false sense of confidence in advance of their matchup, it did a good job in the first half against Prairie View. Playing for the first time in nine days after taking a break for final exams, the Wave committed 10 turnovers, connected on only 1 of 10 3-pointers and missed three straight free throws at one point while taking a 24-19 lead into he break.
The half ended fittingly, as Louis Dabney elevated for a 3-pointer but passed to Reynolds for a better look. Reynolds fumbled the ball away as time ran out.
Prairie View hung around — grudgingly — despite hitting only 8 of 28 shots and making 12 turnovers with one assist.
Even Tulane’s prettiest play in the opening 20 minutes came off a near turnover. Osetkowski tried an ill-advised pass to Dabney on a fast break, but Dabney was able to tap it forward to Osetkowski for a run-out dunk.
With new athletic director Troy Dannen on hand for the first time, new football coach Willie Fritz addressed the crowd from center court at the first timeout. A little later in the half, basketball coach Conroy dressed down his team after another blown fast break opportunity led to a transition layup for Prairie View.
Dabney had nine points on 3 of 5 shooting by halftime while none of his teammates scored more than four. After going ahead 10-4 early, the Wave never led by more than five for the rest of the half.