With about four minutes left on Senior Day, the Tulane men’s basketball team had several good looks at the basket on one possession as it tried to complete a comeback from an early 17-point deficit against Temple. Even though every shot and every tip attempt bounced of the rim, coach Ed Conroy clapped in appreciation of the effort as the Green Wave headed back down the floor to play defense.
The moment was the season in microcosm. Tulane proved resilient and resolute but had nothing to show for it.
Temple (20-10, 14-4) clinched the outright American Athletic Conference championship and took a huge step toward an NCAA tournament bid, winning 64-56 while leaving Tulane (10-21, 3-15) all alone in last place Sunday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
Tulane, which also is at the bottom of the league in field-goal percentage, connected on 23-of-68 shots (33.8), rendering Temple’s 6-for-23 effort in the second half irrelevant. The Wave lost for the 16th time in 18 conference home games over the past two years.
“(The inability to make shots) has taken a toll on us throughout the season,” said guard Malik Morgan, who hit four of his first five shots but missed eight of his last 10. “We know that we get very good looks at times, and those are the ones we need to knock down the most. We weren’t able to hit those on a consistent basis.”
Tulane trailed 22-5 less than eight minutes in after Temple came out hot, hitting four early 3-pointers. The Wave spent the rest of the game trying to catch up, coming within 45-40 on Morgan’s driving bank shot with 14:52 left.
The gap never got any closer because Tulane managed only one field goal in the next seven minutes as the Owls went back up by 12.
Louis Dabney tied Morgan with a team-high 16 points, moving into 10th place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,434. But Dabney, too, had a hard time finding his range, shooting 7-of-19 and getting seven of his points in the final minute when Tulane cut its deficit to 61-56.
No one else scored more than 6. Fittingly, the Wave missed its last three shots.
It’s tough obviously,” Dabney said. “I just really wanted to give these fans and my coach a win before I left this court, and sadly I couldn’t.”
The Green Wave will get one more chance to snap a five-game losing streak, facing No. 7 seed Central Florida (12-17, 6-12) in the opening round of the AAC tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, Florida. The Knights swept the Wave in the regular season, but Conroy said he hoped to build on the second-half effort against Temple.
The Owls made only three field goals in the first 10 minutes after the break.
“I’m very proud of our team and the fight they showed,” Conroy said. “We were playing a team that was competing for a conference championship on the last day of the season, and we put our foot in the ground, really come out and change the course of a game the way we defended and rebounded and executed offensively to get the shots we wanted.”
“We just couldn’t get a couple of shots to get over that hump. They gave it their all and laid it out there.”
The Wave could point to a couple of more positives. Center Ryan Smith tied his season high with six points, all in the second half. Freshman Melvin Frazier had two spectacular hoops in transition, dunking one and converting an acrobatic layup on the other.
Still, Tulane could not find enough ways to put the ball in the basket.
Temple survived despite nearly doubling Tulane’s total for turnovers (15 to eight) and missing seven of its first 14 free-throw attempts. Obi Enechionyia led the Owls with 18 points. Quenton DeCosey added 15, and Jaylen Bond had a double-double with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
That was enough to secure the win regardless of how hard Tulane played.
“Nobody is happy with a loss or the record,” Conroy said. “But on a day when Lou Dabney is walking off the floor at Devlin for the last time, you should honor that effort with whatever you’ve got because that’s what he’s got.”