Temple fights off Tulane men 64-56 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Tulane Green Wave center Dylan Osetkowski (21) battles for a rebound with Temple Owls forward Jaylen Bond (15) at Devlin Fieldhouse on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

Tulane freshman center Dylan Osetkowski backed into 7-foot Connecticut shot-blocker Amida Brimah, took one dribble, then went right around him with a nifty spin move for a layup.

“Wow!” CBS Sports Network analyst Doug Gottlieb exclaimed after Osetkowski pulled the Green Wave within three points of the Huskies in the second half Sunday. “That was beautiful.”

“Wow” is a common reaction for those who watch Osetkowski closely. Although he lacks eye-opening statistics, you’d have to be blind not to recognize his potential. At a school bereft of skilled big men for a long time, he had at least one highlight in every game that forces observers to re-evaluate their assessment of him.

Before Gottlieb, there was teammate Louis Dabney.

“Honestly, I did not know he was that talented (when he arrived),” Dabney said. “He knows what he’s doing. It’s not like he’s just playing hard. He has a bright future if he keeps improving.”

His present is pretty good, too. After starting for the second time this season against UConn, he hit two 3-pointers, scored twice off post moves and finished with 12 points, one shy of his season high.

As early as next year, Osetkowski, who is averaging 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, could be a key cog in Tulane’s offense.

“Every day, I’m trying to get better,” he said. “The game is coming to me more and more easily and consistently.”

Coach Ed Conroy raved about Osetkowski’s performance against UConn, which secured his role as a starter ahead of sophomore Ryan Smith when Tulane (14-12, 5-9 American Athletic) plays at Tulsa (19-7, 12-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Specifically, Conroy cited his ability to score on Brimah, who blocked eight shots the first time the two teams met.

“Dylan’s a guy with a lot of versatility and a great deal of upside,” Conroy said. “He went on the road to Storrs, Connecticut, and made two 3s and also made two or three post moves down low against arguably the best interior defender in the country.”

Osetkowski is a surprisingly good passer for his size (6-foot-9 and 255 pounds), a skill he credits his father, Ken, and older brother, Cory, for developing while he grew up in San Juan Capistrano, California. His dad emphasized to him, from a young age, the importance of getting the ball to players where they could shoot and score.

His brother, now a senior starter at Columbia, gave him someone to practice those skills with all the time.

Never was that ability more in evidence than on one play against Houston in January. The Wave had missed 11 consecutive shots from the field as a seven-point lead turned into a three-point deficit near the six-minute mark of the second half.

Holding the ball near the baseline, Osetkowski threw a perfect behind-the-back pass to cutting forward Tre Drye for an emphatic dunk.

That’s right: Osetkowski went all Harlem Globetrotters on Houston at a crucial moment, sparking the Wave to a 68-65 victory.

“It was shocking, and I kind of jumped a little bit,” teammate Jay Hook said. “I wasn’t ready for what (Osetkowski) was going to do, but it’s good to have a skilled big that can do that. It definitely gave us an edge. It was a beautiful pass. I loved it.”

Osetkowski did not go out of his comfort zone to deliver the ball. It was part of his repertoire.

“I had seen Tre out on the 3-point line, and he knows the look I give him when I want him to cut,” he said. “I saw it was there, and especially at that point of the game it was a crucial play. It was fun to go out there and do it.”

His older brother is a rare center with almost as many assists (46) as turnovers (50). Osetkowski is not there yet (35 turnovers, 19 assists), but Tulane’s inability to make shots hurts his assist total.

With his help, the Wave broke the 55-point barrier for the first time in eight games in its 67-60 loss to Connecticut. The task could be even tougher against Tulsa, which has won 23 of 25 conference games dating to last year.

“We’ve been trying to find a rhythm offensively,” Osetkowski said. “We just have to finish down the stretch. We have to have the confidence in ourselves to finish.”