The already tough task for the Tulane men’s basketball team in facing preseason No. 1-ranked North Carolina likely got tougher over the weekend.
When the Green Wave (6-4) takes the court at the Dean Smith Center on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels (7-2) will be playing their first game since losing to Texas 84-82 on Saturday. That result, assistant coach Shammond Williams said, eliminated any chance of a letdown.
“We’ll have to match their intensity,” Williams said. “They’re going to be extremely competitive. Their focus and their mentality and what they’re trying to accomplish is going to probably be at an all-time fever pitch.”
Williams would know. He played four seasons at North Carolina — from 1994-95 to 1997-98 — reaching the Final Four three times, serving as the final captain for legendary coach Dean Smith and leaving as the school’s all-time leading 3-point shooter and career record-holder in free-throw percentage. He still owns a house in Chapel Hill and lived there in the offseason from 1999 to 2012 during a professional career that included six years in the NBA and seven more in Europe.
In the summers, he helped work out the North Carolina players and organize pickup games because NCAA rules did not allow the Tar Heels coaches to have contact with them. He played a role in the development of every third- and fourth-year player on the current North Carolina roster.
Tulane, coming off a victory against winless Prairie View on Monday night, is entering a different world — particularly key freshman contributors Kain Harris, Melvin Frazier, Von Julien and Blake Paul, who have not played in front of a college crowd as large as 2,500.
The Dean Dome seats 21,750.
“It’s going to be a different environment for them,” Williams said. “It’s going to be the most people that they’ve ever played in front of. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere.”
How Williams reacts will be an interesting sidelight. He is in second year as a Tulane assistant in his first coaching job, so this will be his initial experience against the Tar Heels.
“I don’t know what it will be like,” he said. “I’ve never come out of the other side of that tunnel. This will be the first time that I’ve actually been in a situation where I’ve had to compete against them to beat them.”
North Carolina leads the series 13-1, but the two schools engaged in a pair of classic battles. The Tar Heels beat the Wave 113-106 in four overtimes in New Orleans in 1976. Six years later, Tulane went to Chapel Hill and took the Michael Jordan-led defending national champions to three overtimes in a 70-68 loss. Jordan stole an inbounds pass and sank a 35-footer at the buzzer to prevent the Wave from winning in regulation.
Williams played in the last meeting, an 89-71 North Carolina victory in Charlotte in December 1995 when Tulane was coming off three NCAA tournament bids in the previous four years. He remembers taking the game very seriously because of Wave star Jerald Honeycutt and other teammates he had competed against on the AAU circuit.
This time, the Wave, which has not returned to the NCAA tournament since 1995, is trying to find its way with senior guard Louis Dabney and a rebuilt roster around him in coach Ed Conroy’s sixth year. Tulane has not beaten a ranked team since Memphis in 1983 and is a 23-point underdog against the 11th-ranked Tar Heels.
“They may be the best team in the country when it’s all said and done,” Conroy said. “We get a chance to really gauge ourselves where we are heading into conference play. It’s a tremendous opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”
Tulane practiced at the Dean Dome last year before playing East Carolina over Christmas break. … Williams’ 17-year-old 3-point record at North Carolina finally was broken Saturday. The Tar Heels’ leading scorer, senior Marcus Paige, hit three 3-pointers against Texas to give him 294, one more than Williams. … Tulane junior guard Kajon Mack has been cleared to play after missing the first 10 games with a knee injury.