After playing with fire and flair for 34 minutes, the Tulane men's basketball team finally missed star swingman Melvin Frazier.
The Green Wave led Temple 72-69 with 6:00 left on Sunday at Devlin Fieldhouse even though the Owls were white hot from 3-point range and Frazier had left with a chest injury early in the first half. Then, it all came apart in a hard-fought loss.
Tulane (13-9, 4-6 American Athletic Conference) was off target on its last eight shots from the floor, missed four of its final eight free throws and had very few good looks as Temple (13-10, 5-6) escaped with an 83-76 victory.
"We did not get the ball to guys we were targeting with matchups in our favor," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It was either because we had poor spacing or didn't deliver the ball like we could have. We got away from what had us in the position we were in."
They were in that position because of good teamwork and balanced scoring. Junior guard Jordan Cornish snapped out of a prolonged shooting slump, scored a career-high 20 points while draining three treys. Samir Sehic posted his first double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) since the season opener, scoring five baskets in less than a five-minute stretch after coming off the bench in the first half.
Reynolds added 16 and 10 rebounds. Point guard Ray Ona Embo chipped in with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, pushing the pace at every opportunity.
It still was not enough against surging Temple, which has won six of its last eight and was coming off an overtime home win against No. 16 Wichita State.
The Owls, 10th out of 12 AAC teams in 3-point percentage during conference play, sank 12 of 25 from long range. Seven players hit at least one 3, with forward Obi Enechionyia and guard Shizz Alston, Jr. making three.
"We closed out too casually to them, and they felt comfortable and they made shots," Dunleavy said. "That was the big difference at the end. We had some breakdowns. It's hard to run when you have to take the ball out of the net."
Tulane may have missed Frazier, who averages 17.3 points, the most on defense. Temple scored six baskets in the lane down the stretch, getting four lay-ups while the Wave's best defender watched from the bench.
Owls center Ernest Aflakpui, normally an afterthought offensively, was 4 of 5 from the floor.
"Everybody stepped up on the offensive end, but defensively we had too many lapses," Cornish said. "We gave up offensive rebounds and put-backs and were giving them free lay-ups instead of fouling and sending a 50-percent shooter (Aflakpui) to the free throw line."
Frazier got hurt while taking a legal shoulder to the chest on a pick, coming out at the 17:51 mark of the first half in obvious pain. He went to the locker room for evaluation, returned to the bench and checked back with 11:50 left before leaving for good a little more than minute later.
Dunleavy was unsure of Frazier's status for Tulane's game at Tulsa on Thursday.
"It was a legal play, but he kind of hit a capsule (in his chest)," he said. "It's basically like having a sprain in his chest."
Tulane shook off that injury most of the way in a tight game. Both teams' largest lead was seven points, and the Wave was in position for an inspirational victory after Cornish hit a mid-range jumper to make the score 72-69 with 6:05 left.
The empty possessions followed. One Embo missed the rim on a desperation attempt to beat the shot block. Freshman Caleb Daniels, who went 2 of 11 in extended relief of Frazier, took a contested 3-pointer. Reynolds missed two free throws with a 72-71 lead. Sehic hit only two of four free throws on back-to-back possessions. Cornish and Reynolds were stripped in the lane.
Absent Frazier, Tulane did not have a large enough margin of error to overcome those mistakes.
"What stands out to me is those missed free throws," Sehic said. "I could have put us in a better position at the end."