History wouldn’t repeat itself Saturday.
Three weeks after Tulane beat Memphis for the first time in 15 years, the Tigers wouldn’t allow the Green Wave to build a streak of its own, leaving New Orleans with a 57-55 victory in the Smoothie King Center.
The loss was Tulane’s second consecutive defeat in conference play, after opening with its best league record in eight years. But unlike most of its losses in the series, the Green Wave (13-7, 4-4 American) didn’t fall out of contention until the final seconds.
“It definitely hurt,” Tulane guard Jay Hook said. “When you fought and laid it out on the line, it’s just really difficult to process.”
Austin Nichols sealed the win when he connected on a 4-foot runner with 3.1 seconds left, allowing only enough time for Louis Dabney’s time-expiring heave, which missed wide to the left. Nichols carried the Tigers (12-7, 5-3) down the stretch, scoring their final six points and holding off a late Tulane surge.
“We wanted to get the ball to Austin,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said, “but plays only work when the guys make the shot. ... Big-time players make big-time plays.”
Despite Tulane failing to hold a lead for the final 34 minutes, it repeatedly trimmed the deficit to four and five points before finally tying it at 51 on Lou Dabney’s floater with 2:20 remaining.
It was one of Dabney’s few highlights. After missing all but one minute in the Wave’s win in Memphis because of an injury, he made just 2-of-13 shots and committed three turnovers.
“I think our guys, physically, had a hard time getting going tonight, and I think he was one of them,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “I think there were a couple of plays where he didn’t quite get his legs underneath him.”
Hook had 13 points to lead Tulane, and Jonathan Stark and Dabney each added 10. Nichols had 17 for Memphis, and Markel Crawford chipped in 15.
While listed as a home game on the official ledger and in the records, Saturday’s game had the feel of a neutral site with 3,109 people in the more than 17,000-seat Smoothie King Center. Several Tulane officials said the change in venue came after a request from the league office to test the venue. The school would prefer to play on campus going forward, but Conroy said he enjoys using the arena.
It was the Green Wave’s first game in the NBA arena since Nov. 27, 2011, when it defeated San Diego, and it came just a game after Tulane had its largest home crowd of the season in Devlin Fieldhouse — for its loss to SMU on Wednesday.
The downtown digs did bring some star power along with it, though: Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis and his teammate, former Memphis standout Tyreke Evans, sat courtside.
Conroy declined to pin any of his team’s problems on the venue, instead pointing to carelessness with the ball that led to 16 turnovers.
Despite jumping to an early 8-2 advantage on the strength of Dabney’s six points in the first four minutes, there was no carryover into the rest of the half. Memphis had a 12-0 run as Tulane suffered through a drought spanning more than seven minutes to take the lead.
Memphis found success pressuring the ball, nabbing five first-half steals and turning them into 10 easy points at the rim, helping account for its 32-25 halftime advantage.
Tulane now hopes to salvage the final game of its three-game homestand when it hosts first-place Tulsa on Tuesday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
“I thought our guys really fought and, sometimes when you claw that hard to come back, you don’t execute as well down the stretch,” Conroy said. “I think that certainly happened to us tonight, but I can’t fault our kids because they played with so much heart. It just didn’t work out at the end of things.”