NEW ORLEANS — Tulane senior Kendall Timmons was on a nearly 700-mile bus trip back from Tulsa, Okla., when he found out his college basketball career was not over.
A day after losing to Memphis in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals, Tulane (19-14) accepted a bid to the CollegInsider.com Tournament (CIT), and will host South Alabama at Devlin Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Players learned the news about the time the bus carrying the men’s team, the women’s team and the school’s cheerleaders made its first pit stop on a journey that lasted from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday.
“(The news) took a little bit of the edge off,” Timmons said. “It was pretty good. After we lost to Memphis, I pretty much thought it was over and I would have to start up with something else.”
The journey from Tulane’s previous postseason bid to this one makes that bus ride from Tulsa look like a crosstown excursion. Tulane last played in a postseason tournament in 1999-2000, losing at North Carolina State in the first round of the NIT.
Despite finishing 6-10 in Conference USA and losing five of its last six games, the Green Wave is among a minority of teams that will keep playing.
Unlike football, where 70 of 120 top-division schools played in a bowl this past season, the odds are longer in basketball. Tulane is one of 148 Division I programs in four postseason tournaments, while the other 197 sit home.
The CIT was created in 2009 to give teams from smaller conferences a tournament of their own. The 32-team field this year does not have many familiar names — Conference USA foe East Carolina, Air Force, Weber State and Northern Iowa are headliners — but the Green Wave will take it.
“The only postseason I’ve been a part of is the conference tournament so far,” said Timmons, a fifth-year senior who is 17th on Tulane’s career scoring list with 1,283 points. “I’m excited. Hopefully, a lot of people will come out and support us.”
It’s been 17 seasons since the Green Wave won a postseason tournament game, when it beat Alabama at Madison Square Garden for third place in the 1996 NIT. That year also was the only other time Tulane played a postseason game at home.
Third-year coach Ed Conroy, who took The Citadel to the CIT in 2009, sees only positives in playing in the low-profile event.
“It raises the expectations,” Conroy said. “The NCAA tournament is obviously where every team in the country wants to get to, but my experience with these tournaments in the past is they can be a great springboard. It’s just the expectation of being in the postseason and what it takes to win postseason games.”
Winning the battle at power forward on Wednesday night would be a good start. South Alabama (17-12), which upset then-No. 25 Florida State to begin the season, features Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Augustine Rubit, a 6-foot-7 junior who averages 19.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. Tulane counters with Josh Davis, a 6-8 first-team All-C-USA selection who averaged 17.6 points and 10.5 rebounds.
It could mark the end of the season or be the first of five more games for Tulane.
“Wining a game would be good, but one game wouldn’t be enough for all the losing that has happened since I’ve been here,” Timmons said. “Winning the whole thing would be the icing on the cake.”
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