Resilient all year, the Tulane men's basketball team will have to find that inner strength one more time after an embarrassing 78-49 home loss to 10th-ranked Cincinnati on Thursday night.
The Green Wave's regular-season finale at Central Florida (17-12, 8-9 American Athletic Conference) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday is all about putting that disappointing performance behind it in anticipation of the AAC tournament beginning Thursday.
Tulane (14-15, 5-12) will not return to New Orleans after the game, staying in Florida for the tournament at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando, about a half-hour drive from UCF's CFE Arena.
"We just are going to be in the gym for a couple of extra days of practice," forward Melvin Frazier said. "We are going to try to regroup, get together and try to make a run in the tournament. We are going to keep going forward."
The Cincinnati defeat was extra painful because Tulane never was in the game, falling behind by double digits early and by as many as 33 points in the second half. Despite losing eight of its previous nine, the Wave had pointed to the closeness of most of them as an indication they could hang with anyone in the league. Even the exception, a 73-42 blowout at Houston, was counterbalanced by an 81-72 victory against the Cougars at Devlin Fieldhouse a month earlier.
But the Bearcats looked like they were in a different league in the teams' only meeting.
"Obviously Cincinnati's really good," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "They did some things that sped us up more than we wanted to be. With their recovery time, you have a short window to execute. At times we didn't deliver the ball, and on other times we didn't finish."
The number Dunleavy kept coming back to was 47 — the combined points Tulane allowed Cincinnati from second-chance opportunities and turnovers.
"That's not a survivable number," Dunleavy said. "That's where we need to start."
Cincinnati won every statistical category, outrebounding Tulane 41-26.
"It starts on the defensive end and rebounding," Frazier said. "We also have to share the ball. We only had five assists last game, so that played a big part. We just have to play tougher."
Tulane's previous low for assists was 10.
Defensively, UCF can be categorized as Cincinnati-light. Despite losing 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall in mid-January, the Knights still rank third in the AAC in field-goal-percentage defense (.397). They held injury-riddled SMU to 37 points on Feb. 17.
"They are going to grind you out," Dunleavy said. "You've got to be really focused and sharp and execute well. We have to take care of the basketball so that we're the team with a set defense all the time."
Tulane likely will be the 10th seed in the AAC tourney, although one scenario would move the Wave to ninth.
If the Wave beats UCF and SMU loses at last-place South Florida, Tulane and SMU would have the same conference record (6-12). Tulane would get the edge based on having split with third-place Houston while the Cougars swept the Mustangs.
The Wave has three possible opening-round opponents — UCF, Temple and Connecticut. Tulane split with Temple, with each team winning on the road, lost at home in its only meeting with Connecticut and is playing UCF for the first time on Sunday.
Last year, Tulane beat Tulsa in its regular-season ender before facing the Golden Hurricane again four days later in the first round of the AAC tournament.
It could happen with UCF, too, but the Wave would not want a repeat of the 2017 results. After beating Tulsa 81-69 in New Orleans, Tulane lost 66-60 in the tournament rematch.