The Tulane men’s basketball team did two things on Wednesday night that almost always get you beaten, getting killed on the offensive glass for a half and missing a boatload of free throws.
That’s what made the Green Wave’s bounce-back win even more special.
Cameron Reynolds hit three huge 3-pointers, freshman Caleb Daniels had an even bigger dunk and Samir Sehic scored 7 key points as the Green Wave (12-6, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) made all the right plays down the stretch, beating Houston 81-72 in front of a raucous crowd of 2,301 at Devlin Fieldhouse.
“That’s the most people I’ve ever seen in there since I’ve been at Tulane,” said Reynolds, who had a team-high 22 points. “They got loud whenever we needed them to be loud, and we fed off of them.”
The travel-weary Cougars (14-4, 4-2) who did not arrive in New Orleans until 3:30 p.m. due to Armstrong International Airport being closed for cold weather earlier in the day, canceled their shoot-around and showed the effects while missing everything in the first half. Still, they rallied to go ahead by 3 after the break and appeared ready to take control.
Tulane responded with some big-time basketball, ending a two-game slide.
Reynolds hit a tying 3-pointer from the baseline off a pass from Samir Sehic and a go-ahead trey off an inbounds pass the next time down the court for a 55-54 lead with 10:23 left.
Point guard Ray Ona Embo made a spin move in the lane and fed Sehic for a lay-up to break a tie at 57.
After Corey Davis Jr. missed an open 3 that would have given Houston a 4-point lead, Ona Embo sank a pair of free throws with 4:31 left that put Tulane ahead for good. It was part of a stretch of 11 consecutive made foul shots, a stark contrast to the Wave’s 6-of-17 performance to that point.
Daniels’ dunk, reminiscent of a late jam he had in a comeback victory against Nicholls State, came with 3:58 left following a nifty pass from Melvin Frazier. He caught the ball on the baseline and elevated over two defenders to throw it down, making the score 66-63.
“I just went up strong and finished it,” he said. “It was a great pass, so I had to finish.”
Reynolds’ last 3 gave the Wave some breathing room, padding the advantage to 73-67 at the 2:17 mark.
Tulane scored on eight consecutive possessions down the stretch, outscoring Houston 17-7.
“It’s a credit to our conditioning,” Reynolds said. “We run a lot and play up tempo and wear teams down. While they might decline, we’re playing the same way we played the whole game.”
Jordan Cornish and Sehic scored 14 on a balanced night for Tulane, with Ona Embo adding 13 points and 6 assists, Daniels 9 points and Frazier 8 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists despite failing to reach double figures in scoring for only the second time this season. Sehic’s team-high 9 rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes in place of foul-plagued starter Blake Paul were his most since mid-November.
Rob Gray, the AAC’s leading scorer, had 24 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds for Houston, but the Cougars, who came in as the second best shooting team in the league, could not find a reliable second option.
The biggest battle in the first half was which team would grab Houston’s errant shots.
The Cougars were a dreadful 10 of 37 from the floor but rebounded 15 of their 27 off-target attempts. Almost unbelievably, they converted the myriad second opportunities into only 6 points, the same total Tulane had off of its five offensive boards on its way to a 41-34 halftime lead.
Gray went 3 for 10. Davis Jr. went 4 of 11. On one possession, Houston picked up five offensive boards and bricked every shot before a traveling call left them empty-handed.
“There were a lot of firsts tonight for this team,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but let’s give Tulane some credit. They played well tonight.”
Houston was on its campus at 8:45 a.m. for a 9:30 flight but did not get to the airport until the afternoon while it was delayed. The Cougars then had to wait another hour before boarding their plane.
“It was tough sitting around all day,” Sampson said. “But it’s not like we were working the midnight shift at a mine or something.”
Houston heated up to start the second half, but Tulane clamped down later and fixed its rebounding issues, doubling the Cougars 26-13 on the glass while limiting them to one offensive board. This, after the Wave was outrebounded by 22, 14 and 9 in losses to Tulsa, Memphis and Connecticut.
“If you defend and you rebound, you’re going to put yourself in position to win every game,” Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy said. “In the second half we rebounded and we defended.”
About the only thing that went wrong was an ejection of Frazier, who picked up two technical fouls with 41.4 seconds left as Tulane lined up for an inbounds pass with a 9-point lead. After a double technical was assessed to Frazier and Houston reserve Gabe Grant, a referee teed up Frazier again before the ball was inbounded, resulting in an automatic ejection and two free throws for Houston.
Gray sank both, but the Cougars came no closer.
“I didn’t see Melvin doing anything demonstrative,” Dunleavy said. “The referee was 30 feet anyway. I can’t imagine he heard him say anything. How do you know who he was talking to? Melvin said he wasn’t talking to the guy (Grant). The bottom line is it’s over, we move on and we got a win.”