Coming off a streak-ending, mind-bending, triple-overtime win at East Carolina, the Tulane men’s basketball players were joking and laughing before Friday’s practice as if the weight of the world were off them.
The good times won’t last, though, if they have to wait any longer to feel the same way after a home game.
Remarkably, the Green Wave has lost 12 consecutive American Athletic Conference contests in New Orleans since beating South Florida in overtime Jan. 11, 2015. Facing Memphis (14-10, 5-6) at the beginning of a three-game home stretch at 1 p.m. Saturday at Devlin Fieldhouse, the Wave (9-16, 2-10) needs to channel everything it did right in rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to beat East Carolina on Wednesday.
“My first thought walking off the floor was, ‘Here we go; we’ve got three at home,’ ” coach Ed Conroy said. “I told the guys, ‘We’re getting better. Keep practicing hard, and let’s get this wave rolling.’ I like how this team’s coming together.
“The last 10 minutes of regulation and the 15 minutes of overtime was probably as good as we’ve played all year just from a competitive standpoint. It wasn’t mistake-free, but we were really playing with energy.”
The Wave also exhibited mental toughness to keep competing after losing six in a row by an average margin of 15 points and appearing on the verge of another big defeat.
Louis Dabney matched career highs of 32 points and six assists, hitting one key shot after another down the stretch. Malik Morgan set his career high for points before the end of regulation, scoring 24, and he added a key bucket in the third overtime. Dylan Osetkowski and Cameron Reynolds had double-doubles.
“We really fed off of each other,” Morgan said. “Once I hit two good 3s, Cam hit one in the corner, Lou hit another big one and Dylan was able to get some finger rolls and free throws. It made everybody a little more confident that maybe they could make a shot, too.”
Dabney shot 11 of 20 overall — his first time better than 50 percent since Nov. 22 against Appalachian State. He has scored 67 points in Tulane’s past three games to emerge from a season-long slump.
“I had a lot of (pain) in my right wrist earlier in the season, and I’ve been doing a lot of therapy on it in the last month,” he said. “It’s really starting to feel better, as you can see.”
The last time Tulane had three conference games in a row at home, it sandwiched a two-point loss to Memphis at the Smoothie King Center with defeats to SMU and Tulsa at Devlin Fieldhouse a year ago. The Wave, 4-2 in the AAC before that skid, is 4-21 since then.
Tulane is a respectable 7-9 on the road but a wretched 1-13 at home in AAC play.
“We may be too tense sometimes at home,” Conroy said. “I think a lot of teams would sign up for seven road wins in the first two years in a league, but we have to find a way to play loose and free at home and knock a few of those shots in.”
Memphis, which beat Tulane 77-65 in December despite playing without talented freshman forward Dedric Lawson (14.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg), presents some major matchup problems with its speed and athletic ability. This time, the Wave will be down a big man: Center Jernard Jarreau (leg injury) will miss his seventh consecutive game.
Still, the Tigers have been vulnerable, falling at home to East Carolina and giving up 58 second-half points in a loss Wednesday at Houston.
“We need to give our fans a win for how they support us,” Dabney said. “We owe it to them to get at least two out of three wins in these home games.”
Memphis point guard Ricky Tarrant is struggling entering his first game at Devlin Fieldhouse since playing for Tulane as a freshman and sophomore. He had a total of five points with no assists in his past two outings after scoring 16 vs. Tulane in the teams’ first meeting. He was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2011-12 and a second-team All-C-USA selection in 2012-13 before transferring to Alabama and then moving to Memphis as a graduate student. … Memphis has beaten Tulane nine times in a row in New Orleans and has won 24 of the past 25 overall since losing at Devlin Fieldhouse in 2000.