A game against struggling Southern Mississippi on Tuesday night at Devlin Fieldhouse will give the Tulane men’s basketball team one last chance to find its groove before the start of American Athletic Conference play.
The Green Wave (6-6) appeared to be moving in the right direction against Mississippi State on Saturday, taking a nine-point lead with less than 12 minutes left before everything fell apart. The Bulldogs closed with a 24-5 run to win 69-59, capitalizing on a series of bad offensive possessions by Tulane.
Sophomore post player Dylan Osetkowski, who established a career high for points with 18 by the 13:21 mark, rarely touched the ball as Tulane missed nine consecutive shots. Six players tried 3-point shots against Mississippi State’s zone during that stretch, and none of then connected.
“We lost our focus just a little bit on what had been successful to that point,” Green Wave coach Ed Conroy said. “I wouldn’t classify them as necessarily bad shots or shots that we can’t make, but we lapsed on the way we were attacking them inside and the way we were working the basketball. When you’re on the road, momentum can swing quickly.”
Osetkowski finally broke the drought with 4:59 left, but he did not score again, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, mostly from point-blank range off of crisp passing. The Wave attempted 24 3-pointers, sinking only four.
“The inside game was working, and we just got away from that,” Osetkowski said. “That was the biggest thing down the stretch. We took tough, quick 3s and lost our momentum. We were in a good position, but we weren’t able to follow what we needed to get it done.”
Southern Miss (2-7) bears no resemblance to the team that entered Devlin Fieldhouse and clinched a share of the Conference USA regular-season championship at the end of 2013-14 under former coach Donnie Tyndall. The Golden Eagles, who went 9-20 last season in coach Doc Sadler’s first year, have lost at home to Jackson State (4-8) and William Carey of the NAIA and are coming off a 66-46 defeat to Georgia State on Saturday.
This summer, the NCAA alleged multiple rules infractions committed in Tyndall’s tenure. Tennessee fired him after one season after the investigation was announced.
Tulane and Southern Miss have played 77 times, with the Wave winning 40 but only one of the past 13. After a one-year break when Tulane moved out of Conference USA to the AAC, the nearby rivals plan to meet annually in a nonleague affair.
“We all feel like we are real close, and this game (Tuesday) can put us on the right track,” Tulane senior guard Louis Dabney said. “We need this game really bad so we can have the right mindset to go into the conference.”
The Wave remains a work in progress 12 games into the season. Freshman point guard Von Julien started for the first time against Mississippi State and did not commit a turnover — or score. Junior Kajon Mack, back from a torn meniscus that sidelined him for the first 10 games, played 18 minutes and said Monday he was at least 80 percent healthy.
Conroy liked what he saw for 30 minutes against Mississippi State and for stretches against loaded North Carolina last week. He is still waiting for the Wave to put it all together.
“We need to find consistency and a 40-minute effort,” he said. “We just need to keep having really good practices.”