One stat line told the entire story in the latest disheartening performance by the Tulane men’s basketball team.
Starting guards Shakwon Barrett and Jordan Cornish went 1 of 12 from the floor with 16 turnovers in the Green Wave’s 66-48 loss at South Florida on Wednesday.
You read that right. Cornish hit one of his seven shots, and his nine miscues tied a career high set against Nicholls State last year.
Barrett missed all five of his attempts and added seven turnovers, tying his career high from the UT Martin game earlier this year.
Never has the absence of point guard Ray Ona Embo, who might miss the entire season due to patellar tendinitis, been more painfully problematic. When Tulane (4-12, 0-4) plays host to Memphis (10-6, 2-1) and new coach/famous Tigers alum Penny Hardaway on Sunday, the Wave will continue searching for a way to win without Ona Embo.
“I was looking at Ray having a really big year and that he would be the most improved player in the league,” said Dunleavy, who watched Melvin Frazier win the exact same honor last season. “All the things we saw him doing prior to him going down (in the preseason) confirmed what I was thinking.”
Ona Embo, who considered applying for the NBA draft last June, averaged 10.1 points as a sophomore while compiling by far the best assist/turnover ratio (95/47) among Tulane’s rotational players. With his decision to stay and the arrival of Seton Hall transfer point guard Jordan Walker, a former 4-star recruit who will become eligible as a redshirt sophomore next season, Dunleavy thought the Wave would be fine there.
“Obviously it was a position of least depth for us going into the year because we didn’t recruit a freshman,” he said. “You kind of roll the dice a little bit because of something like that, and it’s Murphy’s Law. We just got caught in a big way.”
Barrett, a redshirt freshman from Toronto forced to play an average of nearly 30 minutes, put up big numbers in a few early-season games. He had 10 assists against Coastal Carolina, scored 19 against South Dakota State and poured in 26 points against UT Martin despite his turnover issues.
Conference play has been a reality check. Through three games, he has more turnovers (15) than points (14) or assists (10) and is still waiting for his first field goal inside the 3-point line.
“A lot of it is gaining confidence,” Dunleavy said. “Sometimes you get a guy you need to corral and not take as many chances and other times you have to say, no, go ahead and be more aggressive. We’re trying to find that zone in there that works best for us.”
Cornish, who led the Wave with 101 assists last season, is not a natural point guard, but he has been forced to move there whenever Barrett sits. He also runs plays at times even when Barrett is on the court.
The results have been ugly — 55 turnovers, 55 assists and a .356 shooting percentage.
Malik Morgan performed a similar role two years ago and played well down the stretch, scoring in double figures in 11 of Tulane’s past 12 games and averaging more than five assists in the past nine.
“We found the right formula for Malik, but never during that time did we not have another point guard on the floor,” Dunleavy said. “We really don’t have much of another option (other than Barrett and Cornish). The next step is to run plays that don’t necessarily need a point guard.”
Sophomore Caleb Daniels, Tulane’s leading scorer (15.7 ppg), will play after missing the South Florida game with an illness. … In Hardaway’s only trip to Devlin Fieldhouse, he hit a game-winning 3-pointer as Memphis beat Tulane’s first NCAA tournament team 68-67 in 1992. … Hardaway’s NBA playing career (1993-2008) and Dunleavy’s NBA coaching career (1991-2010) coincided, but Dunleavy never coached him. ... The start time of 5 p.m., which conflicts with the Saints-Eagles playoff matchup in the Superdome, could not be moved because the game is on ESPNU.