Midway through the second half against Memphis on Saturday, Tulane freshman Kain Harris passed up a 3-point shot in transition, drove the baseline and missed a soaring dunk that would have tied the score.
As Harris approached the bench during a timeout seconds later, coach Ed Conroy met him on the court and gave him a chest bump while uttering words of encouragement rather than criticism.
The play failed, but the attempt symbolized the newfound energy for the Tulane men’s basketball team.
“We did everything right but make that shot, and I even was glad he didn’t settle for the 3, that he went in to try to dunk it,” Conroy said. “That dunk would have tied the game and energized this whole place. I just loved the aggressiveness.”
The Green Wave (10-16, 3-10 American Athletic Conference) won in overtime, beating Memphis in New Orleans for the first time since 2000 for its second consecutive victory after a 1-10 start in the league.
Tulane can make more history with a win Wednesday night against Houston (18-7, 8-5) in Devlin Fieldhouse.
The last time the Wave took three conference games in a row was 2009 under former coach Dave Dickerson. Tulane has won two consecutive league games on eight previous occasions in Conroy’s six-year tenure but never have strung together more.
“The fans deserve it,” said senior guard Louis Dabney, who emerged from a season-long shooting funk to score 49 points in Tulane’s two wins last week, earning a spot on the AAC honor roll. “Every game from now on, we owe it to the fans who come out and support us every night. I promise to try to make the rest of this season be what these fans want it to be.”
Houston, which has won five of its past six, represents a tremendous challenge. The Cougars clobbered the Wave 63-45 on Jan. 5 in Houston, leading 50-25 at one point. They may welcome back sophomore guard Rob Gray Jr., who averages a team-high 17.3 points but has missed the past four games with a sprained ankle. Coach Kelvin Sampson set the Tulane game as a target date for Gray’s return last week.
The Wave has been woeful against upper-division teams throughout the Conroy era, going 2-41 against opponents that finished above .500 in conference play the past five years and 0-7 this season against opponents currently above .500.
In other words, this would be a signature victory.
“It’s really about self pride,” junior Malik Morgan said. “We don’t like to be called losers. We don’t like to be put at the bottom of the conference. We want to be able to play hard every night and show people that we can play basketball.”
Morgan hit five 3-pointers in each of the past two games after going 5-of-22 from long range in his previous three games. Power forward Dylan Osetkowski had 39 points and 24 rebounds in the two victories after committing eight turnovers in one game the previous week and shooting 5-of-21 in back-to-back losses.
“It’s very important for us to keep this train going.” Morgan said. “We have a nice little groove going on.”
Houston has been up and down all year. The Cougars were good enough to beat LSU and SMU at home but handed South Florida one of its two league victories there, 71-62. The Cougars lost to Rhode Island and Grand Canyon on the road but walloped AAC leader Temple 77-50 in Philadelphia.
They trailed Memphis 48-40 at the half last Wednesday before scoring 58 after the break to win 98-90 behind a career-high 34 points from AAC Player of the Week Devonta Pollard.
“They have an entire roster of guys that can score,” Conroy said. “You have to be mentally strong against them because they are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, and they can put points on you so fast.”
Fortitude is where the Wave feels it has improved the most recently.
“Our guys always try to play hard, but sometimes, especially early in the year, adversity would bring our energy level down a bit,” Conroy said. ”We’re a lot stronger mentally, and we’ve shown that the last couple of games.”