Tulane senior Louis Dabney looks at the roster he is leaving behind and sees a bright future.
“This team is going to be real scary,” Dabney said. “They’ve got talent at every position. They have length. If they keep developing and working hard, they can be a powerhouse in this conference.”
He cannot say as much about the present as the last-place Green Wave heads to Orlando, Florida, for the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament. Needing a nearly impossible four wins in four days at the Amway Center to salvage another lost season, Tulane (10-21, 3-15) hopes to at least take the first step against hometown Central Florida (12-17 6-12) at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Knights swept the home-and-home series during the year, but the Wave felt it should have won both of them. In particular, the March 2 meeting in Orlando produced some positive numbers that normally herald a victory.
Tulane committed a season-low six turnovers while forcing 20, outscoring UCF 29-7 off of those miscues.
The Knights’ only player with a double-digit scoring average, A.J. Davis, went 0-for-7 from the floor.
Yet, the Wave blew a 12-point first-half lead, fell behind by 17 in the second half and lost by eight after rallying within four in the final two minutes.
“I have to take it upon myself to just bring energy and inspire my guys so we can play as a unit,” Dabney said. “I feel like we can put it together and make some noise in this tournament, but it has to start with me and my intensity.”
First, they’ll have to figure out 7-foot-6 Central Florida freshman center Tacko Fall, who scored a conference-high 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting with five blocked shots and 13 rebounds last week against the Wave.
Fall has played tall in the Knights’ last three games, pouring in 43 points with 32 rebounds and 11 blocks after being a minor factor the rest of the year.
This time, Tulane will account for him.
“We are going to emphasize more on taking him out of the lane,” Dabney said. “We are going to make him guard. We let him get away with just hiding in the lane, and that’s not going to work this time. He’s coming out of the lane, and if he doesn’t, the guards are going to come off screens with wide open looks.”
Even then, knocking down those shots has been a constant problem. Tulane ranks last in the AAC in field goal percentage (.376) and 3-point percentage (.304) during conference games.
Fall forced them into a typical .375 performance, altering many of the shots he did not block.
“Because he’s down there, it affects you mentally,” said guard Malik Morgan, who went 5-for-13 against Central Florida. “We just have to get the ball high off the top of the glass and work on our floaters a lot.”
The winner of the opening-round matchup will advance to a Friday quarterfinal against Houston (22-8, 12-6), which swept both of them, took all four games by double digits and has won nine of its last 11.
Losers of five in a row, the Wave would just like to wipe the taste of losing out of its mouth and get a shot at playing another day.
“The results haven’t been what we wanted, but we feel like we’ve been playing hard and playing well,” said center Dylan Osetkowski, who followed four consecutive double-doubles by averaging eight points and 4.7 rebounds in his past three games. “We just have to play well for 40 minutes. We know night in and night out in this league it can go either way. We feel like we can definitely get it done.”
The players don’t know it has been 33 years since Tulane even won two games in the same conference tournament (Metro). They do know the next game could be the last for coach Ed Conroy, who missed Tuesday’s practice to attend the funeral of his cousin, famous author Pat Conroy.
Conroy is 33-76 in conference games counting tournament action during his six-year tenure.
At this point, they care only about extending their season.
“We are just focusing on trying to get this win,” Dabney said. “The stuff with coach Conroy and all this stuff that’s been going on, we just let that handle itself. We don’t have any say in it.”