NEW ORLEANS — Tulane men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy knew the gifts and consequences he could receive by leaning on his small lineup.
Without a true center patrolling the middle after Tomas Bruha’s season-ending surgery, and a reliance on guard-heavy lineups, Tulane’s streakiness has been evident in nearly every Conference USA game it has played. It’s never been more obvious than in the past week, when the Green Wave (18-11, 6-8 C-USA) dropped see-saw contests to UAB and Tulsa.
In each game, Tulane broke out on staggering runs to turn the scoreboard in its favor, but couldn’t grasp the momentum long enough to pull out a much-needed win. A core lineup, which includes at least three, sometimes four, 3-point shooters on the floor together, doesn’t always provide an ideal 40 minutes worth of consistency and stability.
“With this lineup, there are going to be runs. It’s that simple,” Conroy said. “It can be exciting when it goes well, but we need to control it better to produce more wins, because we’ve now seen how it can hurt us.”
In its 76-71 loss to UAB last Wednesday, Tulane’s hot shooting and newly discovered zone defense turned a 16-point deficit into a four-point lead late in the second half. But the Wave went cold down the stretch and couldn’t finish.
Saturday’s loss may have been even more infuriating for Tulane, which raced out to a 43-23 halftime lead before Tulsa overwhelmed the Green Wave by outscoring it 41-14 over the final 12 minutes en route to a 78-66 victory. It was Tulsa’s largest comeback ever and the second biggest in the history of Conference USA.
However, Tulane has also benefited this season from its bipolar ways, winning at Houston thanks to a 19-point comeback and it overwhelmed SMU last month after falling behind by 14 in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
“We have been a part of these big swings, and it’s kind of the nature of our team,” Conroy said. “I mean we beat Houston with a big run, and we happened to take the lead when the clock ran out. When we did it in the past two games, there was enough time left for the other team to come back. We have to find a way to minimize the negative, but remain explosive.
“From a fan’s perspective, it can be so much fun to get out there and hit 3s and create turnovers and spread the floor and it’s what we’ve sort of evolved into. But we also leave ourselves open to some problems and our rebounding has definitely gotten worse. It certainly showed against Tulsa.”
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Green Wave will try to bounce back from its historically inept second half, tangling with East Carolina (16-11, 7-7) in Greenville N.C. It’s also a critical opportunity to stay in contention of a .500 record in conference play and a chance at the No. 6 seed in the C-USA tournament, which provides a significantly easier road to the finals than any position lower than it.
But climbing there is going to take a significant upgrade in halting the negative streaks that occur when shots start to rim out.
Conroy said he doesn’t intend to change his rotation, which has not inserted a single frontcourt player from the bench in two games.
So it’s going to take a re-dedicated effort on the glass and on the defensive end to correct the problems which have recently ailed them.
“We know who we are and we know how we want to play,” point guard Ricky Tarrant said. “And we can win the way we’re playing, we just have to do some things better than we have been. We have won games playing with the lineup we have, so it’s not like we can’t do it. We just have to play better.”