Tulane made itself a warm welcome to the American Athletic Conference.
However, its 67-59 win over East Carolina on Saturday is now greeted by a stark reality check. Just two days after shooting its way over a former Conference USA foe, the Green Wave (10-3, 1-0 American) travels to another familiar opponent, but the history of this matchup is much more daunting.
Travelling to Memphis for a 5 p.m. tip-off at the FedEx Forum brings back some not-so-fond memories for the Green Wave and its C-USA tenure. While this year’s version of the Tigers (8-4, 1-0) isn’t reminiscent of the one that dominated the Green Wave’s former league foe, not losing a conference game for nearly three years and barely missing out on the 2008 national championship.
Those Memphis teams were routinely ranked in the top five. This one hasn’t received a vote in either men’s basketball poll.
Those Memphis teams were stocked with first-round NBA talent from point guards to reserve centers. This one lost to Stephen F. Austin and was blown out by Oklahoma State at home.
Still, Tulane hasn’t knocked off its upriver opponent in 22 meetings, with losses to Memphis coming in a variety of locations, under a series of coaches and beneath the banner of multiple leagues.
Coach Ed Conroy said he believes this year’s version of the Green Wave is capable of beating every team left on its schedule, including Memphis, if it replicates its performance from the final 30 minutes of Tulane’s win at ECU. After a sluggish start, bereft of ball movement and littered with turnovers, the Green Wave fell into a 12-point hole early in the first half, forcing Conroy to call for a timeout.
That’s when Conroy changed his whole philosophy.
“I always tell our guys to never look at the scoreboard, but when we sat there I told them to turn around and see what that score is,” Conroy said. “I told them the score right then was bad but it’s going to get a lot worse in a hurry, because they’re moving a lot faster than us and a lot more aggressively. I wanted us to show some mental toughness.
“I really just wanted to get to halftime down somewhere between 10 to 14 points because it would give us a chance to win. I was afraid it would be like some other games where it led to some mistakes and the lead grows to 20 or more and it’s basically impossible to recover from.”
Instead of merely trimming the deficit, Tulane annihilated it. The Green Wave ripped off a 25-2 run to take a 12-point lead into the half and held onto it for the victory.
While a 23-point swing isn’t to be expected on a game-to-game basis, particularly against The American’s upper echelon, it proved how quickly Tulane can catch fire thanks to its array of perimeter shooters and ability to jump into passing lanes defensively.
“It was pretty crazy,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “There were a lot of things going wrong and just like that it all went right. Sometimes it’s just about picking up your head and making a few plays and everything starts going your way.”
It’s a lesson Tulane will need to keep in mind inside the raucous FedEx Forum, where Memphis has turned a series of close contests with Tulane into laughers thanks to one or two lopsided runs. Playing in the league’s biggest arena, and in front of easily the largest crowd Tulane will see all year, helps the Tigers roll downhill and is one of the areas Conroy is warning his team to avoid.
“They have a lot of talent on the floor and a lot of people in the stands behind them and that’s a tough combination,” Conroy said. “I’ve always felt like we play good stretches against them but they always get those huge bursts and outstanding runs that we can’t overcome.
“We just have to control the ball, which has been our biggest issue for the past few weeks. We can’t start turning the ball over and then expect they won’t make a burst like that. If we can control what we’re doing it takes all of those types of issues away and completely changes the way you can play Memphis.”