Louis Dabney didn’t try to search for silver linings or seek out the positives.
What Tulane’s guard saw in a season-opening 71-49 loss to Wake Forest on Monday was disappointing and somewhat baffling. The stats backed him up.
The Green Wave (0-1) was just 1-of-20 on 3-pointers, converted just three field goals in the second half, and was run off its home court by a team that executed better in nearly every possible phase. With the exception of Dabney’s 17 points, no Tulane player grasped any sort of consistent offensive success.
Kajon Mack’s eight points and five rebounds were the team’s second-most in both categories as Tulane got pounded 47-29 on the glass and was outscored 44-24 in the paint.
This wasn’t the Green Wave team Dabney said he had practiced with for the past six weeks. Something felt different.
“I think it’s all mental,” Dabney said. “I think most people know we are a great 3-point shooting team, and night’s like this won’t happen too often. I just think it was a mental thing. We just had little jitters and just didn’t play our brand of basketball.
“It was just a mental thing, because we knew what we had to do and we knew the game plan. We just came out and didn’t execute. It had nothing to do with the coaching or anything. It was just the players, and we didn’t execute. And the next game y’all will see better than that.”
Now, it’s up to him and the rest of the Green Wave to address the flaws and begin a climb back toward respectability when it faces Mississippi Valley State at 7 p.m. Thursday inside Devlin Fieldhouse. The Delta Devils (0-2) don’t present the kind of physical problems Wake Forest did, but Dabney insists the improvement will have to come from the Green Wave internally.
Without a true post presence besides 6-foot-6 forward Tre Drye, Tulane is trying to mix and match a rotation of big men and boards-crashing guards to make up for a lack of size to end defensive possessions. It’s the second consecutive season coach Ed Conroy has found his team in this predicament, and as he waits for raw centers Ryan Smith and Dylan Osetowski to develop, it will take a team concept to at least keep rebounding neutral.
“Our defensive rotation needs to help out our rebounding,” Drye said. “Everyone makes sure that not only their man but other men around the goal don’t have a clear path to a rebound. It’s a team effort, rebounding. We just have to be relentless.”
Considering MVSU’s tallest player, Ben Milshtein, is just 6-foot-7, Thursday night may not present an ideal case study on Tulane’s improvement in that department. However, Conroy said he’s less concerned about results on the stat sheet and more about seeing a willingness and intensity in the post.
“Our guards have to get physically tougher,” Conroy said. “All across the board we weren’t as physical as we needed to be (in the loss to Wake). Several times there was penetration or something happened and a guard on the back side did not make the play he was supposed to make.
“We have got the guys to do it. The Lou Dabneys, Kajon Macks, Cameron Reynolds and Josh Hearlihys can make that play, and we have got to make that play.”
After nine players logged double-digit minutes Monday, Conroy admitted some communication struggles may have stemmed from discomfort and a lack of familiarity among the rotations in certain five-man units.
That issue will work itself out over time. And considering Tulane’s next five opponents — MVSU, Southern-New Orleans, Southern, Southeastern Louisiana and Tennessee Tech — are far from power conference foes, the urgency isn’t exactly overwhelming.
Instead, Dabney said he just wants to see the team he’s practiced with become the one that takes the floor.
“It starts in practice,” Dabney said. “We have to come with a whole new mindset and learn from (the Wake Forest loss) and understand what we did wrong. The rebounding wasn’t good, and we need to go out and be relentless and then just roll with it.”