Tulane men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy didn’t need to watch a lot of film or dig deep into the statistical analytics to determine where his team strayed.
After nearly six weeks of competent performances, the Green Wave (9-3) was run off the floor in an 82-57 loss at No. 15 St. John’s on Sunday. The Red Storm ferociously executed its zone defense, shrouding nearly all of Tulane’s offensive possessions with ball pressure and tight passing lanes.
It resulted in 17 Tulane turnovers, leading directly to 20 Red Storm points and contributing to 22 fast-break points. The disruptive defense never allowed the Green Wave to find a semblance of offensive rhythm beyond the game’s first few minutes, sending Conroy into a mission over the next few days.
With Tulane’s first American Athletic Conference game tipping off at 11 a.m. Wednesday at East Carolina, Tulane’s focus has been about, well, focus.
While Conroy and several Tulane players credited the Red Storm’s versatile zone for some of its struggles, they also pointed to a bunch of unforced errors, like errant passes, bad dribbling and shoddy reaction in transition defense that cost the Green Wave possessions and points throughout the loss.
“There are two areas that, as a coach, you really can’t evaluate, and the first is if the effort is not there,” Conroy said. “I don’t think that was the case. I think our guys played hard. The other, however, is turnovers. I don’t care what sport it is — if you give away the ball, it’s really hard to tell how close or far you were from doing anything else right.
“In the first half of the game at St. John’s, I think we gave up 18 points off turnovers alone. So we didn’t have a chance to defend them because every time we were running back and watching as they converted a turnover into points.”
East Carolina (7-6) may not present the same kind of challenge as the Red Storm, but the stakes are significantly higher. Rather than trying to snap a 15-year drought against Top 25 opponents, Tulane is hoping to start the next chapter of its conference life on a positive note.
The Pirates — who have lost games to UNC-Wilmington, Hawaii, Green Bay, UNC-Asheville and Florida Atlantic — are arguably the least formidable opponent for Tulane to open its AAC tenure against. Not only has ECU struggled to win, but it’s also a familiar opponent in a familiar building.
The teams played together in Conference USA for more than a decade and have matched up in each of Conroy’s five seasons at Tulane. Now, with a new logo on the floor and a new name on the top of the standings, there’s a bit more juice to the annual affair.
“It means a lot to us to be in this league and is a chance for us to show people that we are a better team than a lot of people think,” junior guard Louis Dabney said. “We had a chance to do that in New York but hurt ourselves too much. We need to use that and make sure to be more mentally focused as we go into conference play and make an early statement. We know how tough it is going to be win in the conference, so it’s important.”
As Tulane embarks on its first foray into the AAC, the upcoming slate isn’t quite as difficult as it expected. After landing five teams in last year’s NCAA tournament, including national champion Connecticut, no team in the league garnered even a single vote in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
To Conroy and the Green Wave, that’s all on the periphery. Unless Tulane can finish possessions, stay off its heels defensively and limit unforced errors, it won’t matter what league the Green Wave is competing in or what opponent it’s sharing the court with.
Tulane’s past two days have been about shifting the focus onto itself and forgetting about what it means to be in the AAC.
“A lot of this is about us,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “If we give away the ball and give up steals and throw bad passes, it doesn’t really make much of a difference who we are playing. We just need to get back to focusing on ourselves and staying mentally focused to finish games and not hurt ourselves.”