Green Wave men gear up to face another Top 25 team _lowres

Associated Press file photo by Mark Almond -- Senior guard Jay Hook and Tulane are looking to end a 15-year string of losses against Top 25 teams when the Green Wave plays St. John's on Sunday in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Often, belief isn’t enough to overcome habit. The only way to truly break habitual patterns and tendencies is by proving them wrong.

While Tulane’s men’s basketball team believes it’s capable of beating a ranked opponent, the pure faith didn’t crystallize until it punched its way into striking distance during the final four minutes of a 66-57 loss at No. 13 Washington on Monday.

Although the result added another loss in a string of 15 years without a win over a ranked opponent — Tulane’s last win over a Top 25 team came on Dec. 22, 1999, against North Carolina State — the fashion in which this defeat unfolded injected some hope.

“I think it showed what we are capable of, even when things aren’t necessarily all going right,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “We felt like we should have had that game. A possession here or there where we slipped up really cost us and made it a different ballgame. It’s hard to describe, because I thought we played so well, but we also played badly. What it did show us is we can absolutely compete against anyone, no matter the situation.”

Hook is trying to motivate the Green Wave (9-2) when is travels to Brooklyn, New York, to play No. 17 St. John’s at the Barclays Center at 11 a.m. Sunday in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival.

While the game is technically a neutral site — the Red Storm (10-1) plays its home games at either the on-campus Carnesecca Arena in Queens or Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden — neither site is far from the Barclays Center. Tulane considers it another road game, against another ranked team, in another hostile building.

From a mental maturity standpoint, Tulane coach Ed Conroy said he saw enough signs of growth in the loss to Washington to know his team is ready to snap the program’s prolonged drought against the nation’s best teams.

“The best thing we did was play with great effort and really didn’t back down at all,” Conroy said. “We out-rebounded (the Huskies) and turned them over 18 times, and those things worked for us mostly just because we played so hard. It’s about mental toughness — and the way Washington had the crowd behind them and even took an early lead, it showed a lot of resolve and resilience from our guys to push back from it.

“But while it’s great to do that and everything, this all comes down to consistency. We need to show that for 40 minutes, and do it no matter who the opponent it. It’s probably one of our biggest challenges and it will certainly be tested against St. John’s.”

It will take more than effort to topple the Red Storm.

Under coach Steve Lavin, St. John’s has raced out to its best start since the 1990-91 season and is led by the Big East’s leading scorer: D’Angelo Harrison averages 18.8 points per game. St. John’s has allowed more than 61 points just once this season and has locked down its past two opponents, Saint Mary’s and Long Beach State, to below 50 points.

So even if Tulane matches the relentlessness that kept it in upset territory at Washington, the Green Wave could meet the same result Sunday, if it doesn’t clean up some of the sloppiness that helped trigger the Huskies’ clinching 11-3 run in the final five minutes.

Tulane can’t shoot 33 percent from the field and expect to win. It also can’t surrender 14 turnovers and convert on just 12-of-20 free throws like it did in Seattle.

“We need to take the effort and energy we had in that game but clean it up and put it together with better basketball,” Hook said. “If we can clean up a few things and play with that kind of toughness, that’s what we need to do to win games like this. It’s not about getting close. We need to finish and play the whole 40 minutes.”