After catching an outlet pass near midcourt with less than a minute left and a six-point lead against Temple on Thursday night, Tulane guard Jordan Cornish violated one of the most ironclad rules in the college basketball coaches’ handbook.
He looked to score instead of waiting to get fouled or trying to dribble time off the clock, throwing a picture-perfect lob to a streaking Melvin Frazier for a layup a step ahead of a trailing defender.
The basket put the Green Wave ahead 81-73 at the 43-second mark, and coach Mike Dunleavy loved everything about it. He gives his players the freedom to make aggressive plays in advantage situations, a stark contrast to the control-freak tendencies of many of his brethren.
“We want to be in attack mode,” he said. “We create situations and have to trust that we can finish it, and the first place we look is downhill. Most teams pull back in that situation, and I’ve found a lot of times when you do that, you stall yourselves.”
Tulane attacked Temple repeatedly down the stretch. On the possession before Cornish’s lob, Cameron Reynolds grabbled a loose ball after a tremendous blocked shot by freshman Caleb Daniels and passed up the court to Frazier, who fed Cornish for a fast-break layup-attempt that drew a foul with 58 seconds left.
Up 77-73, Reynolds and Frazier never considered stalling.
None of the Wave’s last four possessions in its eye-opening, 85-75 victory lasted longer than eight seconds. All of them resulted in shot attempts at the rim rather than players being fouled away from the basket.
“When we break the press, Coach is like, if it’s open, we’ll take it,” Frazier said. “If it’s not open, we’ll bring it back and run a play. It was open, so we just attacked them and got some good out of it.”
It is not as if Dunleavy is endorsing a wild, willy-nilly approach. He believes in running clock when the lead is large enough, and he stresses taking high-percentage shots as much as any coach, but his aggressive philosophy is paying off for the Wave.
A year after winning just six times in 31 games, Tulane (10-3, 1-0 AAC) is surging entering its American Athletic Conference home opener against Tulsa (8-5, 1-0) on Sunday. The entertainment value has risen dramatically in Dunleavy’s second season, and the tip has been moved up an hour to 1 p.m. to avoid a conflict with the Saints' 3:25 p.m. kickoff at Tampa Bay.
Look for the Wave to keep pushing the ball up the court at every reasonable opportunity.
“If I start slowing it down here and being too cute, then I take my guys who have got it going good and cool them off,” Dunleavy said. “I can be the cooler. I don’t want to be the cooler.”
Tulane, which beat Tulsa 81-69 at Devlin Fieldhouse to close out the 2016-17 regular season, is hot in a variety of ways, starting with its eight-game winning streak at home.
Frazier had 25 points, 7 assists and 3 steals against Temple, hitting 9 of 13 shots to increase his shooting percentage to .592.
Reynolds (17 points, 10 rebounds), center Blake Paul (12 points, 5 of 7 field goals), point guard Ray Ona Embo (11 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) and Daniels (8 points, 3 assists, 2 blocks) all were instrumental in the upset of the Owls. The Wave hit 19 of 20 free throws, leading all of the way after erasing a 2-0 deficit.
Tulane was 2-0 in its first year in the AAC in 2014-15 but could not sustain that early success, finishing 6-12 before posting back-to-back 3-13 conference records.
This time, the opportunity for another 2-0 start feels different. All aspects of the program are more aggressive.
“Every game is huge for us,” Ona Embo said. “Last year we only won six times, so every single game is a Super Bowl for us that we have to win.”