With a chance to win for the first time in a month-and-a-half, the Tulane men’s basketball team extended its yearlong suffering instead.
The Green Wave (4-16, 0-8 American Athletic Conference) may still be ruing its missed opportunities at East Carolina on Thursday night given the short turnaround to the 5 p.m. start for Saturday’s home game with Temple (15-6, 5-3).
What happened in the 66-65 loss to the Pirates (9-11, 2-6) hurt. In a battle of struggling teams, three segments proved fatal.
Leading by 8 with 40 seconds left in the first half and in possession of the ball, Tulane made two critical mistakes as East Carolina cut the deficit to 4. First, the Pirates stole an inbounds pass from freshman Kevin Zhang and converted it into a lay-up. Second, senior Jordan Cornish tried to score quickly with the shot clock off. He missed, and the Pirates converted it into a dunk.
“We had the wrong guy taking the ball out of bounds, and that was one part of it,” coach Mike Dunleavy said in his postgame radio interview. “And then we should have been holding for one shot. We gave (away) that momentum going into the half.”
“It keeps coming back to the same thing—the turnovers. (East Carolina scored) 23 points off of turnovers. Things we worked on all week in practice, we executed very well. When they’re coming at you 3 on 2 or 2 on 1, you are just at a disadvantage. We’ve just got to be better. It’s like a broken record right now. We just have to play safer.”
Exhibit A in that category came with a little more than minute left when Tulane trailed 62-60. After a steal, Cornish tried to hit Samir Sehic with a lofted, length-of-the-court pass and overshot him. The ball sailed out of bounds off of Sehic, killing the Wave’s best chance to tie.
“I don’t think we’ve completed a long pass (all year),” Dunleavy said. “Even though guys are somewhat open, it’s a tough one to complete, and the stages of the game when they’re happening are big.”
Given another opportunity to tie, Cornish extended his arm on a drive into the lane and was called for charging with 14 seconds left for turnover No. 16. East Carolina then hit its final four free throws to seal the victory.
The other issue was foul shooting. Caleb Daniels, who led the Wave with 17 points, missed the front end of two one-and-ones down the stretch. After the second one, which would have tied the score at 55 with 4:17 left, the Pirates went on a 5-0 run.
The Wave lost despite holding star ECU freshman Jayden Gardner below his season averages with 15 points and 9 rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting.
The Wave lost despite limiting streaky guard Shawn Williams, who popped for 29 against Tulane a year ago while hitting all six of his 3s, to 2 points on 0-of-7 shooting.
The Wave lost despite outrebounding East Carolina 42-34, winning that battle for the fifth time in seven games.
“Decision-making with the ball has been our Achilles heel all year long,” Dunleavy said. “We just have to keep working at it and be hopeful that we crack that code.”
Saturday is Tulane’s annual white-out game, with all fans encouraged to wear white. … The contest will not be televised but will be available on WatchESPN and the WatchESPN app. … The Wave is 0-4 against the Owls at home since joining the AAC. All four losses have been by single digits.