Losers of eight of their past nine, the Tulane men’s basketball team can’t even take comfort in coming home to face Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon. Devlin Fieldhouse has been the site of one disappointment after another in American Athletic Conference play.
Although Tulane (14-13, 5-10 American Athletic Conference) has exceeded the league coaches’ forecast of a last-place finish, it has lived down to those low expectations at home by losing six of seven conference games in New Orleans. Even the lone victory was ugly — a 56-51 overtime win over South Florida (8-20, 2-13) when the Wave shot 33.3 percent from the floor.
Contrast that mark with a 4-4 record on the road that includes wins at Memphis and Cincinnati (19-9, 10-5), and the Tulane has no explanation for its heartache at home.
“I honestly don’t know why we play better on the road that at home,” said leading scorer Louis Dabney, who poured in a career-high 32 points in a 76-55 loss at Tulsa on Wednesday. “To fix that, we have to bring a lot of energy. When we go on the road our energy is sky high, and when we come home it dies out for some reason.”
Momentum-killing losses have become a staple at Devlin. After beating East Carolina and Memphis to start the conference season, Tulane was tied with Temple at the 4:30 mark of its home opener before getting outscored 13-5 the rest of the way.
After halting a five-game losing streak on Jonathan Stark’s dramatic, 28-foot buzzer-beater at Cincinnati, the Wave shot 33.9 percent against UCF in a demoralizing 69-55 defeat five days later.
Tulane’s high for points in home conference games is 56 against Temple. It has yet to shoot 40 percent at home in league play.
“I have no idea what the problem is,” guard Jay Hook said. “We were joking around saying it was the old music we have (on the P.A. system at Devlin). I really can’t even put a finger on it, so you look for other stuff like that.”
Stark is averaging 13.3 points in conference road games and 7.1 at home. He is shooting a dismal 15 of 65 (23.1 percent) from the field at Devlin, surpassing his season average of 10.9 points only once.
“I don’t think it’s any one thing,” he said. “We just have to play better overall as a team. It would be a big boost to win at home and get our confidence back.”
Even on the road, that self-belief lagged against Tulsa, which turned a 22-20 deficit with four minutes left in the first half into 66-41 advantage fewer than 20 minutes later. The weight of a series of losses in the AAC appeared to crush the Wave when Tulsa took control, with Dabney receiving almost no help from his teammates.
“It goes back to practice,” Dabney said. “We didn’t have a quality practice before the game. Everybody’s spirits were ridden down, but that’s easily correctable. If we have a good practice and everybody’s doing what they are supposed to, it translates to the game.”
Although Cincinnati is projected to make the NCAA tournament in most mock brackets, Tulane matches up better with the offensively challenged Bearcats than with other league contenders. The Wave held them to 13 first-half points in its 50-49 victory on Valentine’s Day, and Cincinnati has failed to score 60 points in eight of its last 16 games.
Dabney is hot, and Hook, who went 1 for 10 from the floor against Tulsa, pronounced himself fit after saying he struggled with a sore wrist he injured at Connecticut three days earlier.
If the odds of a sweep are steep, Tulane wants to prove otherwise.
“This is great test for us,” coach Ed Conroy said. “Whether it’s on our home court or on the road, we need to prove that we can compete well against them again.”