A 10-day break moves a lot quicker after a win.
Despite taking finals, preparing for the most rugged part of the schedule and trying to reshape the image of Tulane’s basketball program, several players said it everything came a little bit smoother than usual.
They credited not only the Green Wave’s seven-game winning streak, but more importantly last Saturday’s 59-54 exclamation-point victory over Mississippi State, for turning a December lull in the schedule from doldrums to delight.
“It’s a lot easier to come to practice and it’s even easier to take finals knowing that we are playing so well right now,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “You don’t have to think about trying to bounce back and beat yourself up about what went wrong a week and a half ago. So instead we can just focus on trying to keep it going and keep improving rather than a full-on correction.”
And considering what awaits the Green Wave (7-1) after this week, every bit of preparation could be necessary.
Before opening its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference, Tulane hosts a pair of home games — on Tuesday and Friday — against Savannah State and Jackson State before traveling for a pair of road games at top 25-ranked opponents No. 17 Washington and No. 23 St. John’s.
But this team may be more prepared that the last few incarnations for the long slog that awaits them.
A pair of tripwires that likely would have forced the Green Wave to tumble in the past have been cleared in the past two games. First, Tulane controlled a road game from wire-to-wire at Loyola (Ill.) before coming home to knock off Mississippi State’s physically-imposing frontcourt.
While neither win is vaulting Tulane’s RPI or thrusting the Green Wave into NCAA Tournament predictions, it’s a clear sign of growth to coach Ed Conroy, who said he can see his team improving not only from game-to-game, but practice-to-practice.
Much of that comes from a deeper roster which allows the Green Wave to play at a more frenetic pace on both ends of the floor. In the win over MSU, Conroy employed a full lineup of reserves for prolonged stretches in the second half without losing any traction on the scoreboard.
It’s something he admitted could have never been done against an opponent like MSU a year ago.
With a significantly more fluid rotation than in past years, Conroy said it allows him not only to mix and match units but also utilize some different styles. Wings like Payton Henson and Cameron Reynolds provide size and shooting off the bench, while Kajon Mack adds explosiveness and Dylan Osetowski brings a toughness to the paint.
It’s more than just bodies rolling in and out like hockey lines. It’s created a dynamic where Tulane’s starting lineup doesn’t feel it has to carry the load like it did last year, when point guard Jonathan Stark averaged more than 37 minutes per game.
“I always say it’s like we have two starting lineups,” Hook said. “It’s fun to play like this because we don’t worry about fatigue or worry that if you come out of the game the lead is going to disappear.
“That’s stuff we used to have to think about and now it’s just natural to come in and out and play 100 percent when you’re on the floor. I absolutely love it.”
It’s something Hook said the team gained when picking through the remnants of a 71-49 season-opening loss to Wake Forest. With players coming in and out all game, there was a discomfort on display and it showed up in Tulane’s wildly uneven performance.
Since then, the Green Wave has stabilized and shaken off many of the hurdles that have held the program back in the past.
“I think after that Wake Forest game we all started to come together a bit more every day, even in practice,” Stark said. “Even our teammates who are our best friends off the court, we have to get on them when we’re on the court.
“Basically it says we are treating everyone equally and it’s helping us out a lot. We just have a lot of guys who are good.”