After beating one of the biggest names in the American Athletic Conference, the Tulane men’s basketball team faces an opponent with a bigger game Wednesday night at Devlin Fieldhouse.
Unlike Memphis, which the Green Wave (11-3, 2-0 AAC) upset 74-66 on the road Saturday, streaking Temple (11-4, 2-0) boasts a top-25 win. The Owls clobbered then-10th-ranked Kansas 77-52 on Dec. 22 and have won five in a row since transfers Jesse Morgan (Massachusetts) and Devin Coleman (Clemson) became eligible in mid-December.
Unlike Memphis, which was ranked outside the top 100 of the RPI before facing Tulane, Temple received votes in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll — 33, the most of any team in the AAC.
Backing up the big victory won’t be easy as Tulane plays its conference home opener.
“They are playing great basketball,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “Hopefully we’ll have a full house in there and it will be a great atmosphere.”
Temple has the best assist/turnover ratio and turnover margin in the AAC. Morgan and Coleman, both of whom like to launch from 3-point range, gave the Owls the depth they needed in the backcourt to rebound from a debacle in 2013-2014. After reaching the NCAA tournament six times in a row under coach Fran Dunphy, they plummeted to 9-22 last year.
Despite having the worst shooting percentage in the AAC (38 percent), Temple looks much more like the team from 2008-13. Morgan and fellow starting guards Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey are averaging between 14.0 and 14.2 points.
Tulane, by contrast, is trying to get past its recent history. The Wave last started 3-0 in conference play in 1996-97 and has not finished above .500 in a league since 2006-07, when it went 9-7 in Conference USA.
“It’s really important to get this first home win,” said guard Louis Dabney, who expected to be ready for Temple after suffering a high ankle sprain against Memphis. “We can send a statement. We have to keep pushing.”
That starts with putting the ball in the basket. After struggling to make shots earlier in the year, point guard Jonathan Stark drained 7 of 11 3-pointers against East Carolina and Memphis in his first two conference games, earning AAC Player of the Week honors.
He was 8 for 30 from behind the arc until that stretch.
“The coaches give me confidence and tell me to keep shooting,” he said. “I just tried to shoot it with confidence, and the results showed.”
As tough as Temple is, an equally difficult hurdle could be avoiding satisfaction from the Memphis win. Conroy already sensed that feeling after Tulane played then-undefeated Washington close on the road in late December.
In its next game, the Wave lost to St. John’s 82-57.
“There were a lot of pats on the back like we accomplished something (against Washington), yet we didn’t even get the win,” Conroy said. “That was one of the things we talked about.
“These guys have been educated enough now that in our league and the sport we play, you better be ready to go.”