Improved Tulane hung with SMU for a half on Wednesday night at Devlin Fieldhouse. Then the Green Wave found out how far away it is from contending at the top of the American Athletic Conference.
Getting easy baskets inside while dominating defensively, the Mustangs held the Wave scoreless for more than eight minutes as they extended a 3-point halftime lead to 54-38 and cruised to a 66-52 victory.
Tulane (13-6, 4-3), which was trying to get to 5-2 in conference play for the first time since 2007-08, could not put the ball in the basket during the pivotal stretch.
The Wave appeared right in it when freshman center Dylan Osetkowski blocked a shot at one end, leading to a 3-point play by Louis Dabney that cut the deficit to 43-38 with 15:12 left.
SMU (15-4, 6-1), took control from that point, getting almost all of its baskets from close range while Tulane could not score from anywhere. The lone exception for the Mustangs was a 3-point shot from guard Nic Moore that them a double-digit lead, 48-38, that never got closer.
SMU, which was outrebounded 20-17 in the first half, finished with a 41-30 advantage on the boards, winning for the 13th time in 14 games.
Tulane missed seven consecutive shots and three free throws during its long drought.
“We just let our defense affect our offense,” Dabney said. “We got down on defense, and that translated to the offensive end. That’s all it was. We were worrying about what we were doing wrong on defense, and that made the game much harder than it needed to be.”
Dabney led Tulane with 16 points, but the Mustangs limited him to eight field goal attempts with stifling defense. Jay Hook added 14 points, but 11 of them came in the first half.
Moore paced SMU with 18 points. Yanick Moreira contributed 14 points and eight rebounds.
Thanks to a huge student turnout that boosted attendance to a season-high 3,115, Devlin Fieldhouse was as raucous at the start as it has been in Tulane coach Ed Conroy’s five-year tenure, Those in attendance included Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, and the Green Wave kept the fans involved early, taking a 8-4 lead after Jay Hook followed a 3-pointer with a pair of free throws.
SMU responded with an 11-0 run, including a pair of treys by Moore on quick passes after offensive rebound, but Tulane erased that deficit with 17-7 spurt of its own.
Jonathan Stark dribbled down the court and pulled up for a contested 3-pointer to close the gap to 15-13. Hook hit his second trey of the half to put the Wave ahead 18-17 and sank a third to make the score 25-22.
SMU went back ahead, 33-30, by halftime, but not before Tulane’s Kajon Mack converted an alley oop off a pass from Stark with 14 seconds left. Stark held the ball 35 feet from the basket as if the Wave were playing for the last shot, and Mack sneaked behind the defense on the baseline on the perfectly executed play.
It turned out to be the last highlight of the night for the Wave.
“We needed to get them (the fans) a win and we will get them that,” Dabney said. “Tonight was just one game. We hope they didn’t give up on us.”
The Mustangs quieted the crowd in the second half, showing why they entered as the AAC’s top team in field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, free throw percentage, rebounding margin and assists.
(Conroy) is the most underrated coach I’ve seen,” Hall of Fame SMU coach Larry Brown said. “They run so much stuff that’s difficult to guard. I’m thankful we had three days to prepare. For 14 minutes in the second half we really defended great, and that was the key.”
Conroy pointed out Tulane went only 13 of 24 from the foul line and 7 of 28 on 3-pointers.
“I don’t think we’re far,” he said. “When you look at 13 of 24 from the free throw line, if you get half of those points back, the scoreboard looks different. And if we get one or two more of our 3-pointers to go, it would have been a different game.”