After coming up short on Sunday in an intense struggle against unbeaten SMU, the Tulane men’s basketball team has no time to rest and recover.
Next on the agenda is a Tuesday night rematch with Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies (12-5, 3-2) beat the Green Wave (8-11, 1-5) 75-67 at Devlin Fieldhouse on Jan. 2 and are coming off a 69-57 victory at Houston, which routed Tulane 63-45 on Jan. 5.
To have any chance at pulling the upset, the Wave will need to maintain the same effort level it exhibited versus SMU, when it held the Mustangs to a season-low 40.1 percent shooting in a 60-45 loss that was closer than the score indicated.
Tulane led by 3 early in the second half, trailed by only five with 6:00 left and missed two chances to get within five again under the 4:00 mark before SMU pulled away at the foul line.
“It starts with our seniors and me being one of the leaders,” said junior guard Malik Morgan, who had 10 points and a team-high three assists on Sunday. “We’ve got to keep the intensity in practice so we continue to play hard.”
Tulane lost the first meeting to UConn despite going on a 17-0 run in the second half and taking the lead, 60-59, with 4:08 left. Guard Sterling Gibbs responded with eight quick points, including a pair of 3s, as the Huskies regained control.
Gibbs, who had a game-high 20 points, is one of four scorers Tulane needs to account for in a balanced offense. Rodney Purvis (13.7 ppg), Gibbs (13.4), forward Shonn Miller (13.2) and Daniel Hamilton (12.5) each have scored at least 23 once this year.
While Purvis has slumped lately, hitting 1 of 14 shots against Tulsa and Houston last week, Gibbs has been white hot, scoring 66 points in his last three games and sinking 18 3-pointers in the last five.
Conroy expects the Wave to rise to the challenge. He saw more positives than negatives in the SMU loss.
“We did a lot of good things, played extremely hard and were really connected on the defensive end,” he said. “I loved the intensity of the game. That’s the way it’s supposed to be every night. Our our team is starting to find a consistent level there. We’re not going to get down. We’re going to go back to work tomorrow. I can’t wait to practice tomorrow because we’re still charging.”
The next step is to stop clanking all of their shots. The Wave is ninth out of 11 AAC teams in field goal percentage (.410), 10th in 3-point percentage (.295) and last in free throw percentage (.637).
UConn, which has been without seven-foot shot-blocking specialist Amida Brimah since mid-December due to a broken finger, still ranks second in the AAC in field goal percentage allowed for league games. Statistically, the Huskies are better defensively than SMU, which held Tulane to a season-low 29.6-percent shooting on Sunday.
Conroy is looking for an inside-out approach.
“We’re a better 3-point shooting team than we’ve been,” he said. “But making people defend that paint is going to have to be our strength.”
Tulane freshman forward Melvin Frazier has 26 points in the last two games after scoring 24 in the previous 10. … Center Jernard Jarreau’s status is unknown after he tweaked an ankle with 5:50 left against SMU and did not return. He scored 13 points with five blocks in the first meeting with UConn, but also picked up a technical foul at a critical moment, had to be restrained by teammates after another confrontation down the stretch and was suspended for the next game for a violation of team rules.