Louis Dabney could not hide his frustration last Saturday after a botched possession that symbolized Tulane’s entire basketball season.
With the Green Wave trailing Tulsa by 12 near the 5:00 mark of the second half, he came up with a steal and raced for a layup that could have been a jolt of energy. Instead, his attempt rolled off the rim, and teammate Kain Harris missed a point-blank follow, leading to a Tulsa basket at the other end.
Game over. Again.
Dabney looked at the bench in anguish on his way down the court, as if he were wondering when this season-long nightmare was going to end.
“I know that I can make that shot in my sleep,” he said. “It was a crucial moment at that time of the game, and when I missed it, it was just hard to take in. But I have to keep bringing it every day, just knowing it’s going to get better sooner or later.”
Just about everything has been hard for Tulane (8-14, 1-9 American Athletic Conference) in league play. The Wave isn’t just hungry for a win. It’s starving.
A home game Thursday night against struggling Central Florida (10-9, 4-4), which has dropped three straight by a combined 52 points, provides some hope. To beat anyone, though, Tulane has to take better care of the ball than it did in its 62-48 loss to Tulsa and make a higher percentage of shots that it has against almost every conference opponent.
The Wave went 17 of 59 from the floor and 4 of 20 from 3-point range at Tulsa. lowering its AAC-worst percentages in both categories to .353 and .275, far beneath the next-worst teams.
“We just have to get off to better starts, get into the offense a lot faster and not settle as much,” said Dabney, who scored a team-high 17 points but shot 5 of 14, slightly above his season accuracy rate of .332. “We have to tone down the 3s and just be more aggressive and try to get some points from the free throw line.”
Tulane also committed 21 turnovers, including an astounding six in seven possessions during the second half, and is ahead of only UCF in miscues during AAC games.
“We have to stay calm,” junior guard Cameron Reynolds said. “We just got careless for a second. The confidence is still there.”
Maybe, but time is running out. Reynolds launched a career-high 12 shots against Tulsa, hitting four, as he tried to force his way out of a funk (14 of 49 in his last eight games). He has grabbed 13 rebounds in the last two games, his best total in back-to-back performances, but has nothing to show for it.
Tulane has lost five in a row — all by double digits — and failed to score 50 in three of them.
“Things have snowballed on us where we put out one fire and the next game, something else jumps up,” coach Ed Conroy said. “We’re trying to develop a little bit of confidence by repping it out in practice, and hopefully that confidence will carry over into games and lead to some consistency on the offensive end.”
The biggest challenge UCF presents is its height. The Knights have only one player shorter than 6-foot-4 in their rotation, which includes 7-6 freshman center Tacko Fall, who is averaging 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
UCF’s leading scorer is 6-9 forward A.J. Davis. Three of its top four scorers are at least 6-9.
“They have unusual size, and they really change the game,” Conroy said. “UCF does a great job of playing off of ball screens and getting those guys in positions where you have to rotate. You have to have really sound defensive principles.”
Tulane forced 22 turnovers against Tulsa but scored only 14 points off of them. … The Wave has not led in the second half since going ahead of SMU 30-28 on Jan. 17 five games ago. … UCF’s four AAC wins were home-and-home sweeps of East Carolina and South Florida, which are a combined 4-15 in the league.