Three seconds after the opening tip at Tulsa, Tulane guard Colin Slater was called for a foul. Twelve seconds later, post player Bul Ajang picked up another one, setting the tone for a whistle-happy affair.
But it was the consecutive calls the officials did not make — after assessing 49 fouls through the first 39:58 — that drew the ire of coach Mike Dunleavy and turned what could have been a fantastic, feel-good win into a frustrating 91-89 overtime loss on a two-game road trip that concludes Sunday at Houston.
Cameron Reynolds appeared to get fouled on the arm on a put-back attempt with two seconds left in regulation before grabbing his own miss and getting hit on top of the head as he missed a second attempt under the basket with the score tied at 80. If he had been awarded free throws, he would have needed to hit just one to beat Tulsa and give the short-handed Green Wave (13-10, 4-7) an inspiring victory.
"It was disappointing," Dunleavy said. "You work hard and play with guts and determination through a lot of adversity and weren't rewarded for it. I get that they want players to win games, but a foul is a foul. That's my opinion. If a guy fouls, call the foul."
Instead, the game went to overtime, leaving Tulane in dire straits that soon became untenable when its entire frontcourt fouled out.
The Wave, which played without leading scorer Melvin Frazier and starting point guard Ray Ona Embo, who sat out because of injuries, already had lost center Blake Paul to five fouls with 7:18 left. Ajang followed him to the bench with his fifth foul in the final minute of regulation.
Samir Sehic, who scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, fouled out midway through overtime. Reynolds then picked up his fifth foul at the 1:34 mark.
"I've never been in a game like that," Reynolds said. "It was kind of outrageous. After the first two calls, I knew what kind of a night it was going to be."
Tulane was forced to finish one of the most important games of the season with seldom-used walk-ons in important roles.
Freshman Cameron Galic, who had logged one minute in one game, played the final 2:26 and grabbed the Wave's final rebound with 50 seconds left.
Junior Riley Conroy, the son of former coach Ed Conroy, checked in for the first time since Dec. 6 against Southern and took the final shot, a desperation attempt that hit near the top of the backboard as time ran out.
The loss spoiled the strong performances of Sehic, Jordan Cornish (20 points, five assists), Reynolds (17 points, 10 rebounds), Colin Slater (career-high tying 14 points, career-best seven assists) and freshman Caleb Daniels (career-high 14 points) in the absence of Frazier and Ona Embo.
After giving everything it had at Tulsa and coming up empty, Tulane somehow has to recover against Houston (18-5, 8-3 AAC), which is making a strong NCAA tournament push and is looking to avenge an 81-72 defeat at Devlin Fieldhouse in January.
Frazier, who hurt his chest against Temple last Sunday, and Ona Embo, whose lingering hand injury forced him out of the lineup, may or may not play.
"They are both doing better," Dunleavy said. "It will be a game-time decision. They are getting treatment, so we'll see what happens."
Either way, it will be hard to overcome what happened in Tulsa.
A win would have put Tulane in a five-way tie for sixth at 5-6, a half-game behind the fourth-place Golden Hurricane for fourth place. Instead, the Wave is in 10th place, looking up at everyone in the league other than East Carolina and South Florida.
"It was real discouraging, but you can't really harp on it," Reynolds said. "You have to just go on to the next one. We'll just focus on trying to get a win against Houston."