ORLANDO, Fla. — Just as the second half started Friday night, his 10th-seeded Tulane men’s basketball team trailing Houston by eight points in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals, coach Ed Conroy got surprising news from two fans behind the Green Wave bench.
“I had two guys behind the bench put their phone up and tell me, ‘Hey, Coach, you’re gone,’ ” Conroy said, referring to a report from CBSsports.com during the game that said he would not be returning as coach after the season. “So, that was fun when you’re trying to come back from an eight-point deficit.”
Then a funny thing happened. Tulane, which lost to Houston by 18 and 13 points in the regular season, went on a 17-4 run for the lead, keeping the game tight. Then guard Cameron Reynolds hit a 3-pointer with 7.5 seconds left and the Green Wave — motivated to keep their season alive — stunned No. 2 seed Houston with a 72-69 win at the Amway Center, advancing to Saturday’s semifinals.
“We have been saying all along: We are the madness,” Conroy said after the win. “We can be a part of that. ... Nobody loves college basketball more than me. This is a new story for March Madness, right? I got axed because we’re down 8 at the half.”
Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen was unavailable for comment, but Conroy reiterated he has not been told anything about his future — except by those kind fans behind his bench.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, told about the midgame report and Conroy’s treatment, said, “It says something about their administration, if it’s accurate.”
The Green Wave (12-21), which survived a night earlier by beating hometown Central Florida and getting their opponent’s coach fired, kept theirs alive for another day.
“I give all the credit to my coach and the coaching staff and just the way we prepared,” said guard Louis Dabney, who had 16 points with no turnovers in 38 minutes. “People don’t know all the stuff we do behind the scenes. ... We had a great game plan and, as you can see, we have a lot of fighters on this team.”
Dylan Osetkowski — who had a game-high 18 points — scored to give Tulane the lead with 1:16 remaining. But Houston jumped back ahead with 54 seconds left on a dunk by Devonta Pollard, who then got a rebound on the other end.
But Houston missed a free throw with 19 seconds left and, down two, Tulane got the 3-pointer by Reynolds, with Malik Morgan hitting two free throws with two seconds left to seal the win.
“My man helped so he couldn’t get to me, and (I) knocked the shot down,” said Reynolds, who finished with 11 points.
Conroy could only smile at the way the game played out, grateful for another game with his players — whatever the circumstances may be.
“I give these guys right here all the credit in the world,” Conroy said. “There are a million distractions being thrown at us, going back to the summer and some guys leaving and some injuries. But these guys are the most resilient bunch, most fun group to coach, and I love them and you saw their fight tonight.”