With an early 16-9 lead on Central Florida, Tulane’s Jonathan Stark sized up an unguarded 3-pointer and launched it.
Like almost every other shot for the Green Wave in the last month, it did no go through the net, and the rest of the night played out the same way.
UCF erased its early deficit with a 25-8 run in the remainder of the first half and cruised to a 69-55 victory on Thursday night at Devlin Fieldhouse, handing the Wave (14-11, 5-8 American Athletic Conference) its fifth consecutive loss at home and sixth in the last seven games overall.
When you can’t make baskets, you can’t win, and the arrival of the AAC’s worst defense did not improve Tulane’s results. The Wave shot 21-of-62 (33.9 percent) from the floor against a team allowing opponents to hit 45.2 percent.
“We just couldn’t find the rim,” said power forward Tre Drye, who had a double-double on points and offensive rebounds (10 apiece) alone.
The last time the two teams met, UCF (12-13, 5-9) won a memorable 103-100 triple-overtime affair in Orlando, Florida. The Knights were terrific offensively again in the rematch, sinking 12-of-20 3-pointers and 53.3 percent overall, the highest percentage the Wave has allowed all year.
“We gave them a lot of confidence because we didn’t defend the (3-point) line,” coach Ed Conroy said. “We’ve been outstanding defending the 3-point line all year long, and tonight was probably our worst performance.”
Tulane had no chance to keep pace, failing to score more than 55 points for the seventh consecutive game, its longest such streak since 1944-45.
Leading scorer Louis Dabney, in the midst of a horrific slump, missed his first 10 shots before hitting one with 5:06 left.
Stark, who stopped Tulane’s five-game overall losing streak with a spectacular buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Cincinnati on Saturday, went 2-for-7 in the first half and finished 6-of-16.
“It’s very frustrating, especially when you know what you’re capable of,” said guard Jay Hook, who scored nine quick points but only three more in the last 33 minutes. “We got ourselves down in that aspect.”
The Wave lost decisively despite finishing with a season-high 20 offensive rebounds. Drye grabbed seven offensive boards in the first half, and Tulane did not score off of any of them, getting zero second-chance points on nine opportunities by the break.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” Conroy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”
UCF took the lead for good, 21-18, on Adonys Henriquez’ 3-pointer with 5:50 left in the first half. The Knights extended the advantage to double digits before the end of the half, and Tulane never came closer than nine in the second half.
The Wave’s best opportunity to rally ended when center Dylan Osetkowski missed the front end of a one-and-one at the 5:53 mark. Soon afterward, Henriquez and Taylor drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Knights a 66-50 lead.
Kasey Wilson had a game-high 21 points for UCF, which won its third in a row after a six-game losing streak.
Stark paced Tulane with 15 points. Drye was two shy of his career high with 13 rebounds, but he also committed five turnovers.
“We’re a better team than we showed tonight,” Conroy said. “I know they care about it and I know they feel bad, so I feel bad right with them.”