ORLANDO, Fla. — Even before Tulane tipped off Thursday evening at Amway Center in the American Athletic Conference tournament, its progress in Year Two of the Mike Dunleavy era already registered as a significant stride.
The Green Wave wanted a quantum leap. Alas, one of those surreal March surges must wait until at least Year Three.
Down by as many as 13 to Temple in the second half, the Green Wave's furious final-minute rally fell short as the No. 7-seed Owls (17-14) held on for an 82-77 victory in the tournament's opening round.
Tulane, winner of six games a season ago, finishes 14-17. Thursday's defeat was its ninth in the past 10 games, but five were by five or fewer points. Redshirt senior Cameron Reynolds, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute to cut Tulane's deficit to one, led all scorers with 22 points.
"The progress (from last season) was great," said Reynolds, whose has 193 3-pointers for his career, tying Jerald Honeycutt for second-most (behind Jordan Callahan) in Tulane history.
"We only won six games last year. We won 14 this year, and the games we lost, five ... we lost by a total of 22 points. So everything was right there."
Thursday evening, it was there for the taking again.
Junior Melvin Frazier's floater — the last two of his eight consecutive points down the stretch — cut Tulane's deficit to 76-71 with 1:32 to play. It was 77-71 when Reynolds hit the first of his deep 3-pointers with 52 seconds remaining.
After Shizz Alston Jr. hit one of two free throws on the other end, Reynolds buried another trey with 32 seconds to play, cutting Temple's lead to 78-77. The Owls closed things out by hitting three of four free throws the rest of the way. Tulane's final long-range look, by freshman Caleb Daniels, missed.
"It's kind of a trait that we have had all year long, that we have been able to come from behind and win ball games," said Dunleavy, whose club hit six of nine 3-pointers in the second half. "A couple of shots here or there and maybe a little bit of a difference."
A couple of defended shots also could have altered things.
On a night when they seemed to rediscover their offense, the 10th-seeded Green Wave's 3-point defense mostly abandoned them. Temple missed six of its first seven 3-point attempts, but went 10 of 14 the rest of the way.
"I thought they got too many clean looks, particularly in that second half," Dunleavy said. "Even though they were deep looks, they have that ability."
Limited to 20 first-half points in Sunday's 11-point loss at UCF (16 miles from Amway Center), the Green Wave had a 13-4 lead four minutes into Thursday's game.
Though they had flourished with dribble penetration to that point, they abruptly began settling for long-range hoists — missing three consecutive 3-point tries at one point — and the momentum gradually shifted.
The Owls hit three consecutive 3-pointers during an 18-6 surge late in the first half. The last of those — by guard Josh Brown — gave Temple its first lead, 30-28, with 4:17 to play in the half.
Temple never trailed again. The Owls led 39-35 at halftime and opened the second half with an 8-0 run. Every time Tulane clawed back, Temple responded with a long-range dagger.
Two Frazier free throws, cutting Tulane's deficit to 68-65 with 4:18 to go, was followed by an Obi Enechionyia 3-pointer. Frazier answered with a layup, but J.P. Moorman II responded with a 3-pointer 32 seconds later.
"I felt our offense became more in good rhythm at the end of the first half," Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. "I think we figured out what was gonna work for us. And then again, stepping up and making shots is so critical."
Frazier finished with 15 points, while 6-foot-9 sophomore Samir Sehic had 11 off the bench for Tulane.
"I was proud of the way our guys fought back," Dunleavy said. "But tip my cap to Temple. They're a really well-coached team, really solid team."