Searching for confidence after an overtime home loss to Houston, the Tulane men’s basketball team has one more chance to stop the rot before the American Athletic Conference tournament begins.
The Green Wave (14-15, 5-12), which has dropped 10 of its past 11, will finish the regular season Saturday at cellar-dwelling South Florida (9-21, 3-14).
“We’ve been doing some things better the last three or four games, but it hasn’t shown up in the win-loss column,” coach Ed Conroy said. “Hopefully we can go down to South Florida and find that formula where we play well but we also get the win.”
Tulane hit its two pregame talking points on defense against Houston. The Wave held forward Danrad Knowles scoreless after he pumped in a career-high 31 points in the teams’ first meeting. The Wave also limited Houston to four 3-pointers, exactly half of its season average.
Still, Tulane frittered away a 10-point second-half lead as the Cougars won on an opponent’s home court for the first time since Nov. 14. Houston drove to the basket repeatedly down the stretch, getting layups, a dunk and a series of free throws as a result.
“They had to go to a spread-and-drive-it offense, and that’s where we let ourselves down a little bit, namely just guarding the basketball,” Conroy said. “Our guys were willing to foul instead of settling down and getting the stop.”
Getting motivated for South Florida, which is coming off its most lopsided victory of the year, might not be easy. The Bulls, who had lost 13 of 14 before clobbering rival Central Florida 74-45 on Wednesday, will be honoring leading scorer Corey Allen Jr. on Senior Night.
Allen tossed in 28 points against UCF and will want to atone for a rough 5-for-17 shooting performance in a 56-51 overtime loss to Tulane on Jan. 11.
Even if the Wave wins, its seeding could remain unchanged in the AAC tournament next week in Hartford, Connecticut. To move up to No. 7, the Wave would need East Carolina to lose at Houston on Sunday, setting up a rematch with the Cougars in the first round Wednesday.
Otherwise, Tulane would face UCF in the 8-versus-9 game.
Any lingering memory of the way the Houston game ended will be fatal against South Florida.
“We talked about it so we could get it out and move on,” Conroy said. “You can’t sit back and wait for things to even out. You have to go create your own destiny. South Florida is a tough matchup. They have some quickness and they have to have a lot of confidence now with that last win over their rival. I know we’ll have our hands full.”
Self-belief is what Tulane has lacked during its second-half slide. Time is running out, but guard Louis Dabney insisted it was not too late.
“I know for a fact we can turn it around,” he said. “It just takes being mentally focused and executing. In this league, you can’t half step. You have to be on your ‘A ‘game every day and every minute.”
Conroy said he would not tinker with the lineup after reinserting sophomore Ryan Smith as the starting center ahead of freshman Dylan Osetkowski against Houston. Smith played seven minutes, with Osetkowski logging 31.
Smith missed all four of his shots and had one rebound. Osetkowski was 1-for-9 from the floor but grabbed a team-high nine rebounds with two assists.
“Last game Dylan felt more comfortable coming off the bench,” Conroy said. “Dylan’s going to get the most minutes. It’s just managing during the game how we use those minutes.”