Temple fights off Tulane men 64-56 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Tulane coach Ed Conroy tries to keep the Green Wave grounded as they conquer a tough stretch to begin American Athletic Conference play.

There’s not much capable of rattling Tulane’s men’s basketball team at this point.

When it comes to tense situations, the Green Wave (13-5, 4-2 American) has almost seen it all over the past three weeks.

Each of its six conference games unfolded with either a tie or lead change in the final four minutes, and the stretch featured four total overtimes. So Tulane’s 4-2 start, matching its best conference record since 2007-08, is as much a product of its ability in the clutch as anything else.

“I’ve said it a few times, but last year we probably would have lost a lot of the games we have already won this year,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “It’s because we didn’t know how to finish games. I don’t think we’ve arrived yet or anything, but I think we know how to finish those games now. And we learned from what we didn’t do down the stretch in the past, and that really helped us out.”

With SMU, one of the nation’s hottest teams, coming to town for an 8 p.m. Wednesday game at Devlin Fieldhouse, Tulane recognizes the importance of being productive when it counts. Considering the Mustangs (14-4, 5-1) have won 13 of their past 14 games, shooting up to No. 21 in the RPI, there’s a clear challenge awaiting the Green Wave.

Although a recent Notice Of Allegations, sent to SMU by the NCAA, jettisoned assistant coach Ulrich Maligi into a leave of absence and former McDonald’s All-America forward Keith Frazier into an indefinite suspension, Hook said it doesn’t make the Mustangs any easier to deal with.

“They’re still going to give us their best shot,” Hook said. “We just have to play our game.”

Accumulating so much experience in gut-check situations should help steady Tulane through what’s expected to be a tense week at home, starting with SMU before hosting Memphis at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday and welcoming Tulsa to Devlin next Tuesday. The trio of home games against three of the league’s top four teams creates the type of opportunity Tulane hasn’t had in nearly a decade, to climb the standings and jockey for postseason play.

It’s part of the message Tulane wants to send in an effort to boost its league-worst attendance numbers and draw a true advantage from playing at home. There are various promotions to lure students in from across campus, and several players commented on the buzz they’ve picked up since classmates arrived last week for the spring semester.

“Hopefully, people have noticed what this team has been doing and how hard they’ve been playing and how they’ve worked at representing the university,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “At the same time, we are trying to leave no stone unturned, and we are going to get the message out to them and be among them.

“We have several different things planned to shake hands and say hello so we can really show them that this is important.”

It’s also the pivot point of a season that has already seen its share of what appeared to be forks in the road. After Tulane lost at home to Temple two weeks ago, lowly South Florida almost upended the Green Wave in a last-minute comeback, before Tulane pulled it out in overtime.

Then, a gut-wreching triple-overtime loss to Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, nearly sent Tulane reeling toward a loss at last-placed Houston on Saturday. Instead, the Green Wave clawed back from a pair of deficits near the end of each half to squeeze out a necessary victory.

“We have a lot of experience of doing it down the stretch, and it always comes down to executing,” Conroy said. “I think what’s really important is we are getting more and more guys in there in those situations, to increase the depth we can use there. We are going to face so many different challenges, that we are going to need to pull some different strings on different nights.”