The Tulane men's basketball team suffered by far its cruelest blow in a miserable season on Saturday. 

Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis sank a cold-blooded, tie-breaking buzzer-beating 3-pointer after taking an inbounds pass with 0.5 seconds left as the Green Wave made the wrong kind of history, falling 82-79 and spoiling a stellar team effort along with one of the greatest individual halves in school annals by sophomore guard Caleb Daniels. 

Daniels scored 31 of his career-high 36 points in the second half — that's right, 31 — but it still was not enough to prevent the Wave (4-26, 0-18 American Athletic Conference) from going winless in conference play for the first time ever and extending its overall losing streak to 20. 

Unlike most of the others, this was one in which the Wave put itself in position to win, and at the bare minimum force the Shockers (17-13, 10-8) into overtime, leaving coach Mike Dunleavy livid about the officiating. The referees called a jump ball after a scramble on the floor with Daniels in control of the ball, and the alternating possession arrow was pointed in Tulane's favor.

But after reviewing the replay monitor to check the clock, they ruled that Daniels went out of bounds with 0.5 seconds left after Wichita State center Jaime Echenique dove on top of him. 

"When Caleb was on the ground with the basketball inbounds, he wasn’t going out of bounds and he had no momentum to take him out of bounds," Dunleavy said. "He got pile-drived by their big guy and was forced out of bounds, so I don’t see how the play could either not be a foul on them or a jump ball. That part was really disappointing in a game like this where our team played their hearts out."

At halftime, this one appeared similar to the series of losses that preceded it, with Tulane trailing 37-28 as Wichita State sought its ninth win in 11 games. 

Daniels' spectacular second half started with a 3-point play on the opening possession. Driving to the basket with controlled fury, he converted three more of them, finishing repeatedly after drawing contact, no matter how hard. He also hit a pair of 3-point shots on his way to the most points by a Tulane player since Ledaryl Billingsley scored 38 in an overtime game against Charlotte on Valentine's Day of 2001. 

"I really wanted to win the game," Daniels said. "I attacked the rim, drew guys to me and just kept making the right play."

Samir Sehic, who finished with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, hit a driving bank shot that gave the Wave its first lead, 41-40, since 2-0. Daniels then drove hard to the hole and forced the ball into the basket with two defenders in front of him, making the score 43-40, and his next layup made the score 50-44. 

The lead rose to 8 twice, first on a wide-open-pointer from Crabtree that made it 60-52 and again on a 3-point play by Daniels off yet another drive that pushed the advantage to 63-55.

"Honestly it doesn’t surprise me," Dunleavy said of Daniels' outburst. "I’ve said all along what potential he has and just the last couple of weeks the growth in him seeing the floor and letting the game slow down."

The Shockers went on a 9-0 run in less than two minutes to re-take the lead, 64-63. 

From there, the lead changed hands four times with four ties, setting up the traumatic ending. After both teams called timeouts, Dennis, who had missed all four of his shots to that point, caught the ball cleanly on a curl and hit the center of the net. 

When officials confirmed the shot had been released before the buzzer after checking the monitor, Tulane senior center Blake Paul fell to the floor in anguish. 

Athletic director Troy Dannen, who said in mid-February Dunleavy definitely would return next year, hugged Paul and fellow senior Jordan Cornish as they walked off their home court for the final time. Paul, in particular, gave a yeoman effort, blocking four shots. 

He remained hopeful for a long-awaited victory in the AAC tournament even though Tulane will face No. 5 seed Memphis on the Tigers' home court next Thursday at 2 p.m. in the first round. In his mind, the Wave just needs to bottle its second-half performance against Wichita State. 

"This is tough," he said. "But I can live every day with our team giving that effort on the floor."


Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith