Coming off a pair of strong exhibition game performances, the Tulane men’s basketball team appears ready to bury the memories of a rough debut season under coach Mike Dunleavy.
In beating LSU 84-74 and blasting Loyola 84-46 last week at Devlin Fieldhouse, the Green Wave looked nothing like the team that struggled to a 6-25 record in 2016-17.
Returning starters Cameron Reynolds, Melvin Frazier and Ray Ona Embo and new starting center Blake Paul are a year older. UNLV transfer Jordan Cornish (27 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) and Vanderbilt transfer Samir Sehic (27 points, 15 rebounds) meshed with their teammates after practicing with them for a year while ineligible.
Sophomore point guard Colin Slater was a perfect 6 for 6 from the floor and 4 of 4 on free throws.
Freshman guard Caleb Daniels, a St. Aug product, lived up to rave reviews with mature play, scoring 21 on 7-of-11 shooting.
Another freshman guard, Shakwon Barrett, and 6-foot-10 freshman center Bul Ajang exhibited potential even though they may not be ready right away.
Just as importantly, everyone on the roster appears more comfortable in Dunleavy’s second year. The 10 practices Tulane had before its four-game tour of Spain this summer proved invaluable, with the veterans getting the newcomers up to speed quickly in preseason practice.
The Wave had 21 assists on 32 baskets against LSU and 19 assists on 32 buckets against Loyola.
But the first game that counts comes at home at 7 p.m. Friday against LIU Brooklyn.
“We feel good about where we are,” Dunleavy said. “Now it starts for real. We’ve got to take the things we’ve worked hard on and execute them. You’ve got to be able to take it from the laboratory to the workplace.”
Last year, Tulane was reasonably competitive in an opening-night, 97-75 loss to powerhouse program North Carolina at the Smoothie King Center. It was all downhill from there, with the Wave losing to the likes of McNeese State and Texas State in back-to-back December games before finishing 3-13 in the American Athletic Conference.
“The way we come out is going to be the way our season goes,” said Reynolds, whose average of 17.0 points last year was the Wave’s highest since Josh Davis’s 17.6 in 2012-13. “If we come out to a good start and get a couple of wins under our belt, it can go way up.”
Reynolds, who played out of position at power forward last year, should get more time on the perimeter this season and won’t have to do it all. Cornish, a former Brother Martin star and three-time All-State selection, provides firepower in the backcourt. Sehic, a reserve who figures to play heavy minutes in the frontcourt, is an effective scorer, too.
“We feel pretty good,” Reynolds said. “We did some good things in the scrimmage against LSU and Loyola. The main focus right now is boxing out, keeping the other team off the glass and executing on defense.”
LIU, which won 20 games last year, has a smallish, revamped frontcourt and a new coach in Derek Kellogg, who was fired by Massachusetts in March after a nine-year stint at his alma mater.
“It’s like a lot of teams we are going to run into that are undersized but shoot the ball well and are quick,” Dunleavy said. “They put a lot of pressure on you defensively to defend the perimeter, contest shots and control the boards.”