Sophomore Payton Henson has struggled to put the ball in the basket since arriving at Tulane. That’s why his torrid stretch in the second half against Savannah State on Tuesday night could be pivotal for the Green Wave in the weeks ahead.
Henson, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 26.4 points as an inside-outside threat in his final year at Siloam Springs High in Arkansas, scored 12 in fewer than four minutes during an otherwise forgettable night for the entire team.
He started with a three-point play, getting fouled on a layup. He followed with back-to-back 3-points shots before converting another three-point play in the lane.
In the process, he blew past his previous career high of 14 and finished with 20 points, the most for a Tulane player in any game this season.
“I just have a lot better understanding of the system and what we’re trying to accomplish on the offensive end,” he said. “Just that extra year with the guys improves the chemistry. I understand where everybody is going to be.”
Tulane (8-1), which has the fewest losses of any team in the American Athletic Conference, plays Jackson State at 1 p.m. Friday at Devlin Fieldhouse. The Tigers were 1-9 before hosting Southern Miss on Thursday night and could have an ugly time with the 16-hour turnaround to the opening tip at Devlin Fieldhouse.
Henson’s shooting numbers weren’t pretty entering the Savannah State game. He hit 33.6 percent overall and 26.9 percent from 3-point range as a freshman, launching 52 3-pointers but making only 14. He connected on 38.2 percent of his shots from the floor and was 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) from behind the arc through eight games this season.
On Tuesday, though, he sank 6 of 9 overall and drained both of his 3-pointers, raising his scoring average to 8.2 points. His prior issues did not tame his aggressiveness.
“You can’t really worry about your misses,” he said. “You know they are going to start falling eventually, so when I get an open look, I take it. The guys have been really good about saying, hey, that’s your shot, so keep on shooting that.”
The Wave will need Henson’s scoring touch even more with the indefinite absence of fellow sophomore Cameron Reynolds, who sustained a thumb injury on his (left) shooting hand in the second half Tuesday and could be out for several weeks.
Reynolds, a 6-foot-7 swingman, was averaging 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds.
“He was a guy we could really count on for 25 minutes a night and big production,” coach Ed Conroy said. “It’s going to be a big blow. It will open up opportunities for other guys, but Cameron is unique because of his size and his ability.”
Regardless, Conroy is looking for a much better effort from everyone on the floor than he saw in the 75-67 victory against Savannah State, when Tulane started fast in both halves but was outplayed for large stretches.
“I just felt like we had decided on how much energy we wanted to put out and really didn’t want to expend ourselves the way we need to,” Conroy said. “When you do that and lose your edge, it’s awfully hard to get it back. Once we got the lead, we wanted to have, quote, unquote, fun, and we wanted it be easy.”