The last time the Tulane men’s basketball team traveled to Cincinnati, Jonathan Stark drained a contested 25-footer at the buzzer for a dramatic 50-49 victory on Valentine’s Day last year.
It’s not true, but it seems as if the Green Wave point guards are still waiting for their next made shot.
Stark transferred to Murray State after a dismal slump as a sophomore when he went 43 of 145 from the floor (29.7 percent) in his final 14 games. His backup, freshman Keith Pinckney, left for Northwest Florida State Junior College after averaging 2.4 points and making just 1 of 11 3-pointers.
The struggles at the position have continued this season as the Wave (8-12, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) prepares to play the Bearcats (14-6, 4-3) on Sunday at Fifth Third Arena.
Freshman Von Julien of Riverside Academy, the only pure point guard on the roster, has started three times, averaging 2.4 points. He is 2 for 20 from the floor in the past nine games.
Malik Morgan, a natural shooting guard who began the year at the point, has more turnovers (52) than assists (50) and has spent plenty of time at his old position in the past month, with senior Louis Dabney sharing the ball-handling responsibilities.
Dabney is shooting a career-worst 32.9 percent overall, and Tulane is hitting 35.2 percent in AAC play, by far the lowest figure in the league.
Part of the problem is simply missing open looks, but the point guards have not created good opportunities for their teammates. For the first time in his career, coach Ed Conroy does not have a player averaging at least three assists.
“They (Morgan and Dabney) have taken on a tough challenge,” Conroy said. “It’s not easy to move over to that position when it hasn’t been your natural position.”
Ideally, Julien would get comfortable quickly. He already pushes the ball up the court faster than any of his teammates and has committed one of fewer turnovers in nine of his past 11 games.
“I’m just learning from the older guys like Lou and Malik in practice, watching what they’re doing and taking that on to help me be a better player,” he said. “I really don’t need to score because we have a lot of scorers. I just need to lead and get them good shots.”
Julien was slowed early in the year with an illness that prevented him from practicing or traveling with the team for a three-game November tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Since then, he has been playing catch-up.
“I feel like he’s right on the borderline,” Dabney said. “He’s playing good basketball, but he doesn’t take that many shots. He doesn’t look to be as aggressive as I think he should. Hopefully he breaks through and gets a couple of baskets to fall.”
The other issue for Julien is on defense, where his size (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) can make him a liability. With Dabney and Morgan playing together, Tulane held SMU to a season-low 40.4 percent shooting last Sunday and Connecticut to its second-worst shooting percentage (.358) on Tuesday, giving up only 60 points in both games.
With that type of defensive intensity, the Wave can put itself in position to win with any help on the offensive end.
“When Lou and Malik are out there, we have more size in the lineup,” Conroy said. “Their size and physicality has allowed us to be a better rebounding team and a better defensive team. Now can we find that balance of ways to have them both on the floor and maybe get the offense going a little bit.”
Tulane will play without center Jernard Jarreau for the second straight game after he hurt a leg against SMU. Conroy said Jarreau would be evaluated in another week to determine when he can return. … Conroy said injury-plagued guard Kajon Mack, who has missed the past four games and played in only five all year with leg problems, will not return soon. … Cincinnati is third in the AAC in field goal percentage defense (.389). … The Bearcats have won three in a row a home against Tulsa, Houston and Memphis, all of which have beaten Tulane.