Louis Dabney knew this was the spot he’d been waiting for.
For weeks, Tulane’s guard and best offensive weapon kept his potentially dominant scoring holstered in favor of involving teammates and spreading the ball.
But when the Green Wave’s offense stagnated and nearly drowned in Sunday afternoon’s 56-51 overtime win against South Florida, Dabney became the buoy that helped keep the Green Wave (12-4, 3-1 American) afloat and push Tulane to its best start in conference play since 1996-97.
Sunday’s stat sheet was tilted so far in Dabney’s favor, it could’ve toppled over.
The junior scored 25 points and was the only Tulane player to reach double-figures. He connected on eight of 12 shots while the rest of his team made just seven of 33 attempts.
“My team just gave me confidence, and they kept giving me the ball,” Dabney said. “I was fortunate to make those shots.”
And he showed up when he was needed most.
When the Green Wave??s offense disappeared down the stretch, as a 12-point lead evaporated in the final 10 minutes of regulation, it was Dabney who reignited it in overtime. First he dished an assist to an open Jay Hook for a 3-pointer to start the period before hitting a midrange leaner and four free throws to put the game on ice.
It was the type of commanding performance Dabney was known for as an unstoppably powerful guard for Riverside Academy before tearing his ACL as a high school senior. After a difficult rehab that relegated him to a role player in Tulane’s 2012-13 season, he burst back on the scene last year to lead the Green Wave with 15.2 points per game and shot 41 percent from the field despite facing an array of double-teams and pressure defense.
Although he leads this year’s upstart Green Wave squad in scoring (13 points per game), his team hadn’t been reliant on him to take over until Sunday.
“Not only did Lou understand that we needed his scoring tonight, but he went and got it on the inside where it was really tough,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “He got a few trips to the free-throw line, and then he knocked down a couple of threes and then found other guys for threes. So it’s not like he was just taking over for himself when he got hot.
“He was really playing the game of basketball and playing at a high level. We really needed that from him.”
Dabney admitted it wasn’t ideal to take center stage Sunday, but it was necessary. He would have preferred watching point guard Jonathan Stark light up the scoreboard like he did in wins at East Carolina and Memphis.
In fact, Dabney watched nearly all of Tulane’s 74-66 victory over Memphis from the bench after turning his ankle in the game’s opening minutes. Without Dabney on the floor, Stark shined and earned AAC Player of the Week for his 24-point outburst.
But with Stark slogging through a one-point, six-turnover performance against South Florida, Dabney knew he couldn’t defer any longer.
“Lou is one of the outstanding players in the league, and I think he showed just how valuable he is,” Conroy said. “We can’t do what we did in Memphis, night in and night out, without Lou.”
Yet as Tulane prepares for a pair of conference road games this week — Central Florida on Wednesday and Houston on Saturday — Dabney said he expects his teammates to overshadow him and he’d welcome it.
But he’ll still be there in case they don’t.
“Lou has always been there for us,” Stark said. “He is one of our leaders and one of our scorers and you know he’s going to show up for us every game.”