Streaky Tulane guard Jordan Cornish wasted white-hot shooting in what should have been garbage time at Memphis on Tuesday night, draining four consecutive 3-pointers in exactly a minute.
If he can find that form a little earlier, the surprising Green Wave (11-5, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) will be doubly dangerous the rest of the way, starting with Saturday’s noon home game against Connecticut (9-7, 2-2) on ESPNews.
Cornish’s freaky stretch cut a 14-point deficit to 5 with 17 seconds left in the Wave’s 96-89 loss, and it could have been even closer if the Tigers had not intercepted a long cross-court pass to him in search of another 3.
“For me, it’s just about confidence,” said Cornish, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound former Brother Martin star who spent two years at UNLV before returning to New Orleans to play for coach Mike Dunleavy. “Once I see one go in, I feel like I can make 10 of them.”
He made believers out of anyone who watched the end of the Memphis game. After hitting garden-variety 3s from the wing and near the top of the key, he buried one from about five feet behind the line and another from even farther. Bang, bang, bang, bang.
Yet, his confidence has not turned into consistency. Before that four-pack of fireworks, he was 18 of 60 on 3-pointers for the year. Take away his four best shooting games, which included a stretch of three treys in 64 seconds against North Carolina, and he is 7 for 37 from long range.
A pass-first player who takes turns with point guard Ray Ona Embo running Tulane’s offense, Cornish admits he has not looked for his shot enough to get into a good rhythm, scoring in double figures only six times in 16 games (9.7 average).
“I’ve had a lot of talks with the coaching staff about being more aggressive,” he said. “Now a lot of teams are playing me to pass, so I need to be the scorer that we all know I can be. It’s just picking and choosing my spots.”
Dunleavy is not asking Cornish to force shots. He averages a team-high 3.9 assists, but his scoring often hinges on early success. He started fast against Memphis, accounting for Tulane’s first seven points with a mid-range post up, driving, a 3-point play off a drive and two free throws.
He closed even faster.
“Ultimately we just want him making good reads,” Dunleavy said. “He’s got a post game. He’s got a pick and roll game. He’s got a 3-point game, so depending on who we’re playing, we put him in different situations. It’s about efficiency, about what’s there and what you’re taking.”
Cornish’s volatility as a shooter followed him from UNLV. After sinking 38 of 78 3s (48.7 percent) and hitting 79.5 percent of his free throws as a freshman in 2014-15, he dropped to 31 of 103 on 3s (30.1 percent) and 59.4 percent on free throws as a sophomore. He started 1 for 24 from behind the arc before heating up, connecting on 5 of 6 against New Mexico and 5 of 7 against Air Force.
At Tulane, he still is trying to find his comfort zone after sitting out a transfer year, often deferring to leading scorers Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds.
“It’s definitely had its ups and downs,” he said. “I’m the new guy on the team. A lot of times I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. When should I be aggressive? When Cam is struggling and Mel is struggling, that’s definitely my time.”
For the most part, he has been content as a facilitator, making everyone around him better while he searches for shooting comfort.
“He’s streaky, but we still believe in him,” Reynolds said. “Every single time he gets the ball with an open look, we need him to shoot.”
REYES GONE: Reserve forward Sammis Reyes, who left in December to play for the Chilean national team in three qualifying games for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, is no longer on the roster even though he remains enrolled. Dunleavy said Reyes planned to concentrate on academics in the spring, graduate and then pursue pro ball in Chile.
Reyes, 9 of 33 from the floor last year, played seven minutes in two November games and did not score.