The Tulane men’s basketball team finally catches a breather against South Florida after facing four rough opponents to start American Athletic Conference play.
The only problem is the Bulls feel the exact same way.
Tulane (7-10, 0-4 AAC) is coming off back-to-back losses to Houston and Tulsa by a combined 32 points and will be a heavy underdog in its next three games against undefeated, 10th-ranked SMU at home and Connecticut and Cincinnati on the road.
USF (3-14. 0-4) hardly has beaten anyone, but the Bulls hung tough with Cincinnati at home on Sunday before losing 54-51 when a potential tying 3-pointer bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
The pressure to win for both struggling programs will be suffocating when they meet on Tuesday night at the USF Sun Dome.
“They really do have to stick together,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said of his players after they missed 21 of their last 22 3-point shots in Sunday’s 81-67 defeat to Tulsa. “People can find a lot of reasons maybe not to believe in what this group is capable of, but if you watch the progression, you see us getting better. This team is going to be heard from before it’s all said and done. I really believe that.”
Tulane swept USF last season, winning 56-51 in overtime at Devlin Fieldhouse and 67-63 in Tampa. Either game could have gone the other way.
“Although we were successful against them, they were a hard team to guard,” Conroy said. “Their quickness and their offensive firepower was really good. Obviously we’re going on the road with a short turnaround. We just need to keep focusing on getting better ourselves.”
Not everything was negative against Tulsa. Freshman Kain Harris turned in the No. 3 highlight on ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day with an emphatic one-handed slam of an inbounds pass from center Jernard Jarreau. More significantly, the Wave outrebounded the Golden Hurricane 45-22, winning the battle of the boards for the 12th time in 17 games.
The incredible disparity in 3-point shooting (Tulsa went 13 for 20, Tulane went 4 for 27) rendered every other number irrelevant, but teams that rebound well usually travel well.
“Coach had said before the game he wanted us to re-establish our dominance on the boards,” said power forward Dylan Osetkowski, whose 18 points and 24 rebounds were his second-highest totals of the year in both categories. “We had that mindset. Like Coach said, we have to stick together and good things will come.”
Tulane and USF are living down to the preseason expectations of the league’s coaches, who pegged the Wave for last place and the Bulls for second-to-last. To climb out of the cellar, Tulane likely will have to contain 6-0 freshman guard Jahmal McMurray, USF’s only double-figures scorer.
Averaging 13.5 points, McMurray has scored 10 or more in nine straight games and pumped in a team-high 16 on 6-of-9 shooting against Cincinnati. Second-year coach Orlando Antigua has a veteran frontcourt with a young backcourt, but McMurray, a high-volume shooter with a low degree of accuracy (.395 percentage), is the catalyst.
“He’s just another guy that’s really hard to keep out of the paint,” Conroy said. “He has outstanding quickness and the ability to make you pay.”
Tulane is trying to avoid its first 0-5 start in league play since 2003-04 in Conference USA, when it lost seven in a row before beating USF. … The Wave leads the series 17-12. … Since Jan. 11, 2015, Tulane is 2-0 against USF and 2-13 versus the rest of the AAC.