For the first time in ages, Devlin Fieldhouse was rocking as Tulane rolled past Houston in the final minutes last Wednesday.
It was nothing like the glory years of sellouts during the 1990s under former coach Perry Clark, but it was a new experience for anyone associated with this men's basketball team. After the lethargy that set in with nearly 20 years of losing, the Green Wave is creating a buzz on campus with its up-tempo style under second-year coach Mike Dunleavy.
The players want to capitalize on that excitement Thursday night against struggling South Florida (7-13, 0-7 American Athletic Conference). Tulane (12-7 3-4) is looking to win its second consecutive AAC home game for the first time since joining the league in 2014-15.
"We have to do our part," said junior guard Jordan Cornish, a UNLV transfer and New Orleans native. "We have to make Devlin one of the hardest places to play in the country, and I think we can do that. The acoustics here are really loud."
The announced attendance of 2,301 at the 4,100-seat facility for the Houston game was Tulane's largest since 2,563 for a matchup with St. John's on Dec. 2, 2016. The Wave has not attracted 3,000 since facing then-undefeated SMU on Jan. 17, 2016.
Students, who had deserted the program in the past decade, filled up the bottom section on their side of Devlin Fieldhouse.
"That's what we work hard for, to get everybody talking about Tulane basketball," Cornish said. "It helps us. It gives us a sixth man on the court. We hope to keep building it."
Tulane has beaten NCAA tournament contenders SMU and Houston in two of its last three home games. The Wave's scoring average of 75.3 is its highest since averaging 77.4 in 1995-96.
Electrifying junior forward Melvin Frazier, a Higgins High product whose repertoire ranges from spectacular dunks to dead-eye 3-point shooting, is second in the AAC in field goal percentage (.600). He is coming off a 27-point night at SMU on Saturday when he drained six 3s in a 73-62 loss that was closer than the score indicated.
Tulane led by one with 5:30 left before SMU finished strong, winning for the 34th time in 35 games at Moody Coliseum.
The Wave, which went 79-13 at home from 1991-92 through 1996-97 while playing in the NCAA tournament three times and the NIT three times, can start its own streak at Devlin with the help of an atmosphere like against Houston.
"We hadn't had a crowd like that since I've been here," senior forward Cameron Reynolds said. "It just feels nice to know that's your home court. It helps us because we get into and the fans get into it."
Basketball was almost invisible on campus when Reynolds arrived in 2013-14. Now he says fellow students tell him they watched the road games on television and are following closely.
That interest can have a direct effect on results. Tulane, which was below .500 at home since the start of 2013-14, is 9-2 at Devlin Fieldhouse this season.
"It's good because the other team can't really hear their offense and can't run it as smooth when it gets that loud," Frazier. "It gets us going. I would have never thought it would get like this. We're blessed to have it."
The lack of noise in the past produced the opposite result. Cornish did not play last year as he redshirted, but he noticed the dead atmosphere from the bench while Dunleavy began his rebuilding process. He inherited a program that has not reached the NIT since 2000 and the NCAA tournament since 1995.
"It's hard because you have to bring your own juice every day," Cornish said. "When we have crowds that amped, it's easy to play hard for them."
Cornish labeled the atmosphere at the Houston game the best he had experienced at Devlin since he was an eighth grader in 2009, when Georgetown star and Helen Cox grad Greg Monroe returned to New Orleans for Tulane's season opener against the Hoyas.
That crowd of 3,463 came to watch Monroe.
The fans at the Houston game were all about Tulane, which closed with a 19-9 run to win 81-72.
When (Houston coach Kelvin Sampson) called a timeout after a big shot, it got so loud, it gave me chills," Cornish said. "It was amazing."