NEW ORLEANS — In a game of runs, the last one tends to be the most significant.
The theory held true during UAB’s topsy-turvy 76-71 win over Tulane on Wednesday night in Devlin Fieldhouse, dropping the Green Wave (18-10, 6-7 Conference USA) into the bottom side of a crowded field fighting for a bye in the C-USA tournament.
Tulane entered the night with an opportunity to tie East Carolina for the coveted fifth place position (which will receive a bye because of Central Florida being ineligible for the postseason) but failed to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Green Wave found itself in an early 15-point hole, battled back to regain the lead in the final six minutes, only to squander the momentum and drop its 10th consecutive game against the Blazers (14-14, 6-7), dating back to 2007.
“It was a great feeling to get back up after falling behind like that,” point guard Ricky Tarrant said. “But we just couldn’t get those stops when we needed to, and it cost us.”
Tualne’s troubles started almost immediately, missing its first eight shots from the field and falling behind quickly.
While Tarrant attacked the rim in the first half, scoring his first 16 points (en route to his team-high 25) either at the rim or the free throw line the offense still sagged. His aggression kept the Green Wave’s offense afloat while forward Josh Davis suffered through his worst scoring half of the season, scoring just one point and missing all four of his shots.
The Green Wave’s first half offense reverted back into the stagnant version which started 2-5 in Conference USA, rather than the dynamic one that propelled Tulane to win four of its previous five games.
With the exception of Ben Cherry’s pair of converted 3-pointers, the Green Wave rarely moved the ball with fluidity and failed to find open shooters around the perimeter, making just eight of its first 33 shots.
“We were just forcing a lot of bad shots,” Tarrant said.
Meanwhile, UAB found open shooters with ease and converted 58.5 percent of its shots, thanks in large part to leading scorer Rod Rucker who scored 26 points, making 13 of his 17 shots and Jordan Swing who racked up 23 points thanks to five 3-pointers.
UAB pushed out its halftime lead even further, as the Blazers raced out on an 11-2 run early in the second half to extend its lead to as much as 15 points, threatening to run Tulane off its home court. UAB’s open looks inside the paint became so plentiful, the Green Wave switched into a rarely-used zone defense with 12 minutes remaining to curb the Blazers’ ball movement.
The zone knocked UAB on its heels, prompting a series of turnovers and allowed the suddenly hot-shooting Green Wave to nab the lead after breaking out on a 26-6 run. Tulane’s four-guard lineup heated up from beyond the arc and allowed the Green Wave to capitalize on its refocused defense.
But the Blazers eventually adjusted, and Tulane’s shooters went cold. UAB silenced a raucous Devlin Fieldhouse by immediately regaining the lead with six straight points, then extended the lead to 70-63 with less than two minutes remaining.
A late flurry of 3-pointers opened a brief glimmer of hope for another Tulane comeback, but perfect free throw shooting down the stretch allowed the Blazers to hang on, sending the Green Wave to Tulsa on Saturday in search of a way to get back into contention.
“We just have to put this one behind us,” Tarrant said, “and try to go to Tulsa and win and get back into this thing.”