Tulane men’s basketball team believes its newfound depth can make a difference _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Tulane guard Louis Dabney makes a basket over UTEP guard/forward Jake Flaggert (11) and forward Vince Hunter (32) at Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.

It’s not hard to identify what went wrong for the Tulane men’s basketball team in its 103-100 triple-overtime loss at Central Florida on Wednesday.

While sinking a school-record 16 3-pointers, the Green Wave forgot to play defense.

Coach Ed Conroy believes ownership of that fact will be the key to a quick turnaround Saturday at struggling Houston (7-9, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) as Tulane (12-5, 3-2) tries to stay in the upper half of the league. Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on ESPNews.

“I love that we had guys rise up to make plays and were fearless, but at the same time we have to acknowledge we had a letdown on the defensive end,” he said. “We gave them a lot of confidence early in the game because we let them get to the rim.”

UCF’s guards drove into the lane with little resistance, setting up easy baskets. The Knights finished with 48 points in the paint, and that did not count the 43 free throws they attempted — 12 more than any other Tulane opponent this year. Centers Ryan Smith and Dylan Osetkowski and power forward Tre Drye all fouled out, mostly because of late help on penetration.

When the Knights did not beat their defenders off the dribble one-on-one, they used the same high screen repeatedly to get to the basket.

“We got ourselves caught up in a shootout, and we have to be better than that mentally to be able to make adjustments on the floor,” Conroy said. “What it comes down to a lot of times is just getting down in a stance and guarding the ball. We had the right coverages, but the commitment on that end of the floor needs to be greater.”

Tulane wasted terrific offensive nights from its three-man backcourt of Louis Dabney, Jay Hook and Jonathan Stark.

Dabney had a season-best 26 points while hitting a career-high six 3-pointers on 13 attempts. Hook made 7 of 12 3s for a season-high 25 points and handed out three assists, a third of his total for the year. Stark scored 18 points with 10 assists.

“We just had a mental breakdown guarding the pick-and-rolls,” said Dabney, who fouled out in the third overtime. “It was nothing different that they were doing that other teams weren’t doing to us. We’ll be better for the next one.”

The first priority was getting a little rest to recover physically, so Tulane did nothing but lift weights and watch film Thursday before conducting a normal practice Friday. The Wave won an overtime game against South Florida on Sunday before the marathon versus UCF, so it has played the equivalent of an extra half entering its third game in six days.

Mentally, too, the Wave could have issues. Stark missed a pair of free throws with less than two second left in regulation, sending the game to overtime. Near the end of the second overtime, Hook grabbed a long rebound of a UCF miss and launched a 60-foot prayer with 7 seconds left. It bounced out of bounds.

“When I contested (UCF’s) shot, I thought there were like 3 seconds left,” Hook said. “Then I looked up at the clock when I got the ball, and I saw 1 second. I was looking at the shot clock (which had not reset after UCF’s miss). I realized the mistake as soon as I let it go and tried to pull it back.”

Last year, while going 8-8 in Conference USA, Tulane never went 0-2 in a week. For this core of players, bouncing back from tough losses has become routine.

“We will just use our experience in the next game and not worry about the outcome of the last one,” Hook said. “It shouldn’t linger much. We’ll be like, ‘We should have won that game; let’s get this one.’ ”