Intensity and attention to detail were not the biggest issues for the Tulane men’s basketball team in its American Athletic Conference home opener Friday.
Making shots was the problem.
Tulane played hard against SMU from start to finish, but it hardly mattered for most of the night. The Green Wave could not buy a basket in the first 26 minutes, losing 74-65 while the Mustangs led wire to wire in front of an announced crowd of 1,469 and an audience on ESPN2.
When SMU (10-4, 2-0 AAC) took its largest lead, 46-28 with 14:38 left, the Wave (4-10, 0-2) was shooting 9 of 38 from the floor.
Those ugly numbers were nothing new. Tulane, which lost its fourth in a row, is a woeful 6-31 in home conference games since joining the AAC in 2014-15.
“We had some great looks that we didn’t bury unfortunately,” coach Mike Dunleavy said. “If they’re not going in you can try the next guy, but if you’re running plays and getting good looks, that’s a good way to go.”
Improbably, the Wave still gave itself a chance down the stretch, cutting a 63-49 deficit in half with a 7-0 run in 20 seconds thanks to back-to-back steals in the backcourt. Caleb Daniels’ dunk after the second one ignited what had been a quiet arena for the first time.
Freshman Connor Crabtree, who had a hand in both steals, then drained a 3-pointer to make the score 65-59 with 3:06 left.
Tulane missed an opportunity to make it a one-possession game when Samir Sehic’s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim less than a minute later, and SMU sealed the victory on Ethan Chargois’ 3-pointer at the 2:09 mark.
“Playing hard is a great skill that seems to be harder to come by in today’s world than it ever has been,” Dunleavy said. “That’s our one goal right now is trying to get our guys to play for 40 minutes.”
With that effort, they have to hope the buckets will come.
Slumping freshman Kevin Zhang barely rippled the net while hitting a 3-pointer on his first attempt, but he missed all eight shots he took the rest of the way.
Jordan Cornish, who hit four of his first seven shots, went 2 for 9 in the second half.
Daniels was 1 for 8 in the first half and finished 5 of 18.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time we have to trust the work we put in all through the summer and the fall,” Daniels said. “If we take the right shots, they will eventually fall.”
Sehic led the Wave with 20 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, but it was not enough even though Tulane out-rebounded SMU 43-39 and committed only 12 turnovers — Dunleavy's two points of emphasis since embarrassing losses to Towson and Alabama A&M before Christmas in the Boardwalk Battle.
“All we can ask for is to execute and get a good shot,” Sehic said. “At the end of the day you can’t control if the ball goes in or not. You can just control how you execute the play.”
Dunleavy was not as happy with Tulane’s first-half performance, blaming the short turnaround from Wednesday night’s 93-61 loss at Cincinnati for a pair of open 3s Jahmal McMurray hit to give SMU an early 8-0 lead. The Mustangs led 35-25 at the break.
McMurray, averaging a team-best 18.5 points, led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting. His teammates went 15 of 45.
Cornish contributed 17 points for Tulane. Daniels, doing everything but put the ball in the basket, added 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. He harassed McMurray into stepping out of bounds for one turnover and took a charge for another.