Devlin Fieldhouse came alive when freshman Caleb Daniels threw down a dunk off an alley oop from Melvin Frazier on Saturday, capping a 14-2 run as Tulane pulled within 37-36 of Memphis midway through the second half.
As has almost always been the case, the excitement proved fleeting.
Four years into American Athletic Conference play, Tulane's miserable record at home shows no sign of abating.
The slumping, short-handed Green Wave (13-13, 4-10) played with outstanding intensity for all 40 minutes but made just enough mistakes to lose a winnable game against the Tigers (16-11, 7-7), falling 68-63 while trailing from start to finish. Memphis' victory dropped Tulane to 6-29 in New Orleans against AAC opponents -2-6 this season--and the Wave was kicking itself for a variety of breakdowns in different departments that determined its fifth consecutive defeat.
Four of those losses have come by a combined 16 points.
"It's frustrating," said forward Melvin Frazier, who tied Jordan Cornish for team-high honors with 16 points. "We played a good game, but we just have to pay attention to the little things."
After Daniels' basket, the Tigers stretched their lead quickly by attacking raw freshman center Bul Ajang, the replacement for under-the-weather Blake Paul. They scored nine points on their next four possessions, getting all of their baskets at the rim around Ajang, who did not score in a season-high 29 minutes.
Paul was limited to four minutes, succumbing to a team-wide bug.
"Blake's kind of like all of us," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He's been treated by doctors, but yesterday in our film session everybody was taking turns who was going to cough first."
With the Wave still hanging around, Memphis guard Jeremiah Martin, the AAC's leading scorer, erupted late.
Martin scored 9 of Memphis' 12 points in a little more than three-and-half-minutes and assisted on the other three, throwing a pass to wide-open teammate Kyvon Davenport after a dribble display.
Martin's last basket in the stretch, on an easy drive, made the score 60-53 with 2:56 left.
"The pick and roll coverages on Martin, we made some mistakes that we didn't do a good enough job of communicating," Dunleavy said. "We were switching from man and zone and let it get away from us there."
Cornish, who got hot at Memphis in a desperation comeback attempt that failed, did it again, draining three treys down the stretch. His final one, which banked in, cut the deficit to 66-63 with 11.6 seconds left.
The Tigers sealed the win on two free throws after being fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass.
"Five games in a row we've let slip away, so it's extremely frustrating," Cornish said. "We've got to just work for the next one."
Another slow start hurt, too. Tulane, which scored 9 points in the first eight minutes against East Carolina on Wednesday, managed eight points in the first 11 minutes this time and shot 8 of 29 (27.6 percent) in the first half.
"The shots we missed were lay-ups around the rim," Dunleavy said. "Some of it was in traffic, but a lot of them were extremely high-percentage shots."
Tulane played without starting point guard Ray Ona Embo, whom Dunleavy said had an adverse reaction to an injection that was supposed to make a bothersome hand better. His replacement, Colin Slater, went scoreless in 20 minutes, missing all four of his shots.
Frazier recovered from an 0-of-5 start to finish 5 of 12, adding four steals and four assists in his most energetic performance since returning from a painful chest bruise he sustained two minutes into the first of the Wave's five consecutive losses. The Wave also fixed it recent free throws woes, going 17 of 20 with Daniels hitting 11 of 12.
Still, it was not enough. Memphis hit 56 percent of its shots, with Martin scoring a game-high 22 points. And when the Tigers finally missed a couple late, they grabbed the rebound and scored, leaving Tulane in 11th place in the AAC.
"The formula really isn't that hard," Dunleavy said. "It's consistency on a nightly basis, and that's what we're striving for."