Needing one big basket to put away Mississippi State, the Tulane men’s basketball team went to its most reliable combination.
Louis Dabney drove toward the basket from the top of the key and drew two defenders to him before kicking the ball back to Jay Hook, who drained an NBA-range 3-pointer with 29 seconds left as the Green Wave beat the Bulldogs 59-54 on Saturday afternoon at Devlin Fieldhouse.
Never mind that Mississippi State (5-2) was picked last in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason. Tulane (7-1), which has won seven in a row for the first time since going 9-0 to start 2011-12, wanted this one badly.
The execution on the pivotal possession was exactly what coach Ed Conroy wanted: his leading scorer finding his best shooter for a wide-open look.
“Lou Dabney is an off-the-charts competitor, so we put the ball in his hands,” Conroy said. “He beat his man, threw a perfect pass back to Jay, and Jay was ready to step up and knock it down.”
It was Tulane’s third win in 11 games under Conroy against teams from current power-five conferences and the first at home since Dec. 3, 2011, against Georgia Tech. This year, the Wave opened with an embarrassing 71-49 defeat to Wake Forest at Devlin Fieldhouse and has not lost since then.
Tulane outrebounded the bigger Bulldogs 37-32 and held them to 38.2-percent shooting, leading for almost the entire second half. The Wave survived a five-minute scoring drought that allowed Mississippi State to turn a 45-38 deficit into two brief one-point advantages that Tulane answered immediately both times.
“It was a total team effort,” Hook said. “I said before the game we needed to rebound and play defense, and that’s what we did.”
Hook, who shot 47.2 percent from 3-point range last year, was the only player on either team with a hot hand. While his teammates went 2-of-11 on 3-pointers, and the Bulldogs were 2-of-13, Hook sank 5-of-8 from long range, hitting nothing but net on his final shot.
“I knew it was going in,” he said. “As soon as the first one went in, I thought I was going to have a good shooting day.”
Hook led all scorers with 17 points. Jonathan Stark added 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, while Dabney contributed nine while going 4-of-13 from the floor.
Mississippi State tried to answer Hook’s last basket, but Stark, a 6-foot point guard, blocked Trivante Bloodman’s shot at the rim. That was the story down the stretch for the Bulldogs, who tied the score at 54 with 2:36 left, then went scoreless the rest of the way, missing three free throws and five shots from the floor.
Mississippi State lost for the 18th consecutive time on an opponent’s home court. Travis Daniels led the Bulldogs with 13 points and nine rebounds but scored only five after halftime. Gavin Ware chipped in with 11 points, and Roquez Johnson added 10.
Tulane led for the first 13:50 of the second half, going up 41-34 on Hook’s pull-up 3-pointer with 14:16 left.
The Bulldogs finally went ahead 49-48 on Thomas’ 3-pointer with 6:06 left, but Stark scored on a putback 23 seconds later. Mississippi State went back ahead 51-50, but Stark responded with a jumper 20 seconds later.
The Wave had every answer down the stretch.
Neither team led by more than four points in the first half, with both connecting on 10 field goals and going 5-of-7 from the free-throw line. Tulane, which had 11 turnovers before the break, held Mississippi State scoreless for the last 3:25 to go up 28-26 at the break.
“Mississippi State made it really tough on us early,” Conroy said. “They were active and athletic and had us out of sorts. I thought if we could ever get that corrected, we’d be OK. We’ve grown a lot in the last few weeks mentally.”