Hosting Georgia Tech after a shaky performance against UNO, the Tulane men’s basketball team only has to look back a week to find reason for self-belief.
Eight days ago, the Green Wave pulled off a comeback for the ages against an opponent rated far higher in the early-season RPI than the Yellow Jackets. Trailing Stephen F. Austin 36-10 in the first half, the Wave appeared headed for another demoralizing defeat in a November that had been full of them.
What happened from there almost defies description.
Tulane rallied to win 60-59 despite playing long stretches without foul-plagued starting point guard Malik Morgan, not having backup point guard Von Julien available with a concussion and forcing coach Ed Conroy to burn all of his timeouts in the first half.
“You can’t exaggerate what happened,” Conroy said. “That’s the best comeback I’ve ever seen, especially the way one team looked, and how the other team looked, and how good your opponent was.”
Stephen F. Austin, a near unanimous pick to win the Southland Conference, has lost five or fewer games in each of the past three years. The Lumberjacks advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament in 2013-14 and returned four starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team.
Tulane (5-3) was coming off a 71-61 loss to Mercer on Thanksgiving and already had fallen to Alabama A&M and Southern.
After giving up 36 points in the first 14 minutes, Tulane limited Stephen F. Austin to five points for the rest of the first half, closing the margin to 41-28, and held the Lumberjacks to 5-of-23 shooting in the second half.
Trailing 59-52 at the 3:41 mark, the Wave closed with an 8-0 run.
“I was trying to preach to the young players that no matter what the score is right now, we have to keep fighting because we have a whole other half,” said senor Louis Dabney, who shifted to point guard when Morgan got in foul trouble. “It showed us if we could do this to a team who went to the NCAA tournament the last couple years, we can have a great team.”
Until that victory, Louisiana teams had been on the wrong end of dramatic comebacks. The largest in NCAA history was Duke’s from a 32-point deficit against Tulane in 1950, when the Blue Devils trailed 54-22 and won 74-72. The second largest was Kentucky’s second-half rally from a 68-37 deficit to beat LSU 99-95 in 1994.
As recently as 2013, Tulane led at Tulsa by 22 in the first half and lost 78-66.
Georgia Tech (5-2), which was picked near the bottom of the ACC, starts four seniors and a junior. Imposing 6-foot-8, 256-pound power forward Charles Mitchell has posted a double-double in every game.
Tulane blew out Liberty a day after beating Stephen F. Austin but barely survived against UNO on Wednesday, winning 64-62 while committing 16 turnovers and missing 15 of 17 3-point attempts.
To beat the Yellow Jackets, the Wave will need to channel its second-half performance against the Lumberjacks.
“That’s our steppingstone right now,” Morgan said. “We have to play Georgia Tech soon and Mississippi State and North Carolina. If we play with the same intensity we had in that game and the focus, we can actually surprise people.”
Julien, back from a three-game absence, had a team-high four assists in 16 minutes vs. UNO. … The last time Georgia Tech played at Devlin Fieldhouse, Tulane won 57-52 on Dec. 3, 2011. … Georgia Tech is 60-73 under fifth-year coach Brian Gregory, topping out at 16-15 in 2012-13.