NEW ORLEANS — It could have been one of the most thrilling plays for the Tulane women’s basketball team in recent memory.
Instead, an inspired flurry of last-second play ended in a frustrating 55-52 home loss to East Carolina on Sunday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
After Green Wave guard Jamie Kaplan drove to the basket and sank a layup to bring the Green Wave within 53-52 of the Pirates, Tulane had 17 seconds left in the contest to pull out a gutty win.
And it almost happened. Tulane forward Janique Kautsky broke up the ensuing ECU inbounds pass to force a turnover. After a successful Wave inbounds, the ball fell into Kaplan’s hands with the seconds ticking down.
But a baseline drive ended in a missed layup, and when Kaplan tried to pull down her own rebound, she stepped out of bounds to give the Pirates the ball with just a handful of seconds on the clock. The Wave was forced to foul, ECU sank both free throws, and the game was over.
“We played great defense and got a stop but just weren’t able to convert it,” Kaplan said of the final play. “We had our opportunities (to score) tonight. They just didn’t fall for us.”
With the loss Sunday, Tulane fell to 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Conference-USA play, while ECU improved to 13-5, 3-2.
After grinding through a physical, defense-dominated 40 minutes — and in the process holding the Pirates to just 31.7-percent shooting — Tulane’s potentially stirring rally fell short, ending in the Wave’s second home loss against a Conference USA opponent in three games.
For a team that was the preseason C-USA favorite, Sunday’s defeat was especially deflating.
“They played good, we played good,” said Tulane center Chinwe Duru, who came of the bench to lead the Wave with 12 points. “It just happened that they came out on top at the end.”
Tulane could have socked the game away in the second half without even needing final-seconds heroics. ECU racked up fouls at a fast clip and gave the Wave the double bonus at the line with a fair amount of game left.
But while the Green Wave was 11-for-12 from the foul line in the first half, it fell apart at the charity stripe in the second stanza, going just 13-for-21 and failing to take advantage of all the Pirate fouls.
ECU itself shot just 64.7 percent from the line in the second half, but the Pirates sank just enough free throws at the end when the Wave was forced to foul in its comeback attempt.
Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said her squad knew going into the game that ECU played physically, so the Wave’s game plan was to drive to the hoop as much as possible, draw fouls and win the contest from the foul line.
The first two steps of the plan worked. The third step, however, didn’t.
“This was our most physical game of the season,” Stockton said.
“We knew ECU gives up a lot of fouls, so we felt like we needed to get to the free-throw line. We got there in the second half. We just couldn’t capitalize on it.”
Tulane’s plan also involved forsaking the outside shot in the hopes of drawing fouls inside. As a result, the Wave ended up with no three-pointers on just three attempts.
“(The Pirates) played very aggressive and made it hard for us to get an open shot on the perimeter,” Kaplan said. “We were looking for that. They were taking away the 3-point shot, so we were trying to get to the line and bet points in different ways.”
On defense, meanwhile, Tulane matched the aggressive Pirates step for step, stifling the ECU attack and keeping the Wave in the game. The fact that the Wave lost despite such solid defensive play particularly irked Stockton.
“When you hold your opponent to 31-percent shooting, you should win,” the coach said. “I thought we fought really hard. I felt the effort was there, just not the execution.
“We just really had to play perfect in the last four minutes, and we didn’t do that.”
The Wave now plays two games on the road, against Central Florida and Houston, before coming back home to face defending C-USA champ UTEP Feb. 7.
Those road trips might be a good thing — although all four of the Wave’s losses have come at Devlin, Tulane is a perfect 7-0 away from home, including 2-0 in conference play, a fact that buoyed the Wave after Sunday’s home loss.
“For us, we play pretty well on the road,” Stockton said. “I think we’ll make (the home losses) up. We’ve had good teams come in here (to Devlin). I feel we can get (the losses) back.
“I don’t feel like it’s all broken for us, and you don’t fix what’s not broken,” she added.
And the fact that her squad often hasn’t looked like the league favorite it was supposed to be?
“This league is too strong for anyone to go undefeated,” Stockton said. “It the short run, maybe it’s less about winning the regular season and more about positioning for the tournament.
“We’re just five games into (conference play) out of 16 games scheduled,” she added. “We still have a ways to go.”