ORLANDO, Fla. — For two days and two wins, the Tulane men’s basketball team had kept its season alive, and kept Ed Conroy as their coach. But the Green Wave’s run at the American Athletic Conference tournament ended Saturday with a 74-54 semifinal loss to Memphis at Amway Arena.
“We just really ran out of gas, honestly,” said senior guard Louis Dabney, who had eight points on 2-for-10 shooting in his final game. “I just wish I had another year to play with this great coach, this great group of guys. I’m just sad it had to go down this way.”
The night before, Tulane (12-22) had upset second-seeded Houston, even as reports came out during the game that Conroy would be fired. Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen declined to comment through a team spokesperson, but Conroy said he did not say goodbye to his team after the game, even as all signs point to him being done after six seasons and a 92-103 record.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” said Conroy, whose team was the first to win back-to-back games in a conference tournament for Tulane since 1983. “March, and the ability to come to this tournament is what drove, what motivated these guys, what kept them going every day. ... To see their hard work and their belief pay off, to have the joy they had the last couple of days, it shows you how special March is.”
Conroy said it has been a difficult week for him, including the passing of his cousin, noted author Pat Conroy. He said he remembered a conversation he had with his cousin about how a team can leave a legacy without high levels of success.
“He started one of his books with a statement that said reunions are for winners,” the coach said. “We used to argue about that all the time. I knew what he was trying to say. Reunions go to the teams that hang championship banners. But when a team really finds its voice, they’re a team for life. I didn’t say goodbye to them as their coach. I told them we found our voice this week and we have to be teammates and a team for life.”
Memphis, which advanced to face Connecticut in Sunday’s championship game, led 31-22 at halftime Saturday and pulled away to an easy win, putting five players in double figures while Tulane had none. Tigers coach Josh Pastner made a point to open his postgame comments by praising Conroy.
“I just want to say that I think Ed Conroy does just a great job with Tulane,” he said. “I think they’re very well-coached. ... He’s one of the great coaches in the game, and their teams are so hard to play against all the time.”
Conroy said with all but one player back next season, the experience of a sustained tournament run will help Tulane, even if he isn’t there to build on that with them.
“I really believe when you get a taste of success in March-— and that’s why yesterday was so important — it can really drive your offseason,” he said. “It can help you, push you to what you’re really capable of doing. That’s my prayer for these guys.”