When listing the positives and pitfalls for the Tulane men’s basketball team after two conference outings, it’s hard to know where to start.
Only one thing is certain. Unless the Green Wave learns how to finish games in a better fashion, any of its potential will be wasted.
Tulane (7-8, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) led Memphis by six early in the second half of its league opener on the road and rallied from a 19-point deficit to take a late 1-point lead on Connecticut at Devlin Fieldhouse, outrebounding both teams.
The Wave blocked 10 shots for the first time in eight years at Memphis, then tied a school record with 12 rejections against UConn.
Yet, it lost both times and has another high hurdle to clear when it faces Houston (12-2, 2-0) on Tuesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion. The Cougars, in their second year under former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, are coming off a 77-50 win at Temple and are 9-0 at home, including a 105-98 overtime triumph against LSU when leading scorer Rob Gray, Jr. erupted for 31 points.
“This is a must-win,” senior guard Louis Dabney said. “We all feel that way. We are on the borderline of just breaking through, and we can send a message if we beat these guys.”
First, the Wave has to sink some foul shots. Already last in the AAC in free throw percentage entering the UConn game, Tulane missed eight of its final 12 attempts, plummeting to 307th nationally (63.7 percent) out of 346 teams.
Dabney and freshman Kain Harris are the only players hitting 70 percent. Center Jernard Jarreau is 23 of 44 (52.3 percent). Power forward Dylan Osetkowski (35 of 56, 62.5 percent) has struggled, too, and freshman forward Melvin Frazier is a miserable 8 of 23 (34.8 percent).
That trio went 1 for 6 at the foul line in the second half against UConn. Osetkowski was well short and then well long on two attempts that would have tied the score with 2:25 left.
“I was thinking about it too much,” said Osetkowski, who fell short of his sixth double-double of the year by one rebound. “I just have to go up to the line, be confident in myself and shoot the ball.”
It was hard to tell what Jarreau, a graduate transfer, was thinking when he picked up a technical foul for jawing at a UConn player on his way back down the court after converting a 3-point play in the first half. His outbursts before and after the break tarnished a performance when he tied a career high with five blocks and connected on 5 of 6 shots, sparking a 17-0 run with fantastic two-way play.
Late in the second half, coach Ed Conroy had to bench him after a skirmish.
“We have to continue to emphasize that you can’t let the heat of the game mess with your game,” Dabney said. “He’s a good guy, but he has to be better in those situations. He just let the emotions of the game rile him up.”
The Wave had a chance to beat Memphis and Connecticut, which entered the Associated Press top 25 at No. 23 on Monday, even though Dabney hit only five of 25 shots.
Picked last in the AAC by the league’s coaches in the preseason, Tulane appears capable of much more even as it inhabits the cellar.
TULANE AT EAST CAROLINA: In Greenville, North Carolina, after suffering their first loss since last November, the Tulane women’s basketball team (10-4, 1-1 AAC) will look to bounce back at 6 p.m. Tuesday against the East Carolina.
Tulane’s seven-game winning streak came to a close on Sunday as Memphis prevailed with an 83-67 victory, marking the most points scored against the Wave this season. The Green Wave defense will look to get back to form, for over December they limited opposition to 53.5 points per game.