NEW ORLEANS — During Tulane’s 69-57 victory over Loyola on Tuesday night, the game itself presented very little to talk about. It was a blowout for most of the contest.
But that’s OK, because there was another topic of conversation going around Devlin Fieldhouse — the announcement Tuesday afternoon that Tulane is moving to the Big East Conference in all sports in 2014.
“It seems really exciting,” sophomore Andrew Lichter said as he took tickets at one of the building’s entrances. “It’s probably good financially for the school, but athletically it might be a little tough competing against some of those schools (in the Big East).”
Up in a far corner of the fieldhouse, freshmen Natalie Atkin and Melissa Lipstein took in the halftime festivities with the score already 41-22 in the Green Wave’s favor. They said students received a campus-wide email about the news around 1 p.m. Tuesday, the same time university officials were holding a news conference to officially announce the conference switch.
“It’s really cool,” Lipstein said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Down on the hardwood, Tulane simply overwhelmed the hard-fighting Wolfpack in clash of New Orleans neighbors. But that wasn’t a surprise; Loyola plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, not the NCAA. Tulane improved to 5-2, while Loyola remains at 5-3 because the contest was an exhibition for the Wolfpack.
While the Tulane faithful might have had Big East dreams dancing in their heads, Tuesday’s clash was a huge one for Loyola, which was playing its across-the-street rival for the first time in six years. With the resumption of the annual rivalry, the Wolfpack’s Big Easy counterparts will offer Loyola a chance to play high-level — and soon Big East — competition and will generate student interest in the on campus, Loyola coach Michael Giorlando said.
“We like it,” he said of the series. “We’re glad we can help provide this to the community, the fans and the students.”
Still, despite its excitement at getting a shot at the Wave, the Wolfpack had to deal with Tulane forward Josh Davis, who notched a double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
Fellow forward Kendall Timmons supplemented Davis’ effort by just missing a double-double of his own, posting 18 points and nine boards. Tulane guard Ricky Tarrant added 11 points.
Davis said his squad played with more focus than it did in a lackluster, surprisingly narrow victory over Southern three days earlier.
“Every day we just try to get better,” he said. “We had a lot more intensity tonight.”
On the other side of the court, guard Kyle Simmons paced Loyola with 15 points, while Wolfpack season scoring leader Robert Lovaglio contributed 14 despite being the focus of the Tulane defense.
While the Wave maintained control from the beginning — Tulane shot out to a lead of 26-9 and widened the gap to as many as 24 points early in the second half — the Wolfpack, backed by a healthy and noisy fan contingent of its own, didn’t roll over, narrowing the deficit to 12 points with about six minutes left in the contest.
But a three-point play by Davis halted the Wolfpack’s run, and the Wave cruised from there, eventually settling on a 12-point win.
Even though Tulane won big, it didn’t exactly play well — the Wave shot only 38.8 percent from the field for the game and allowed the Wolfpack to claw its way back into the contest by letting Loyola shot 51.6 percent from the field in the second stanza.
Giorlando said his squad picked up its effort in the second half, shooting better from the field and slowing down what he called a “high-octane” Tulane offense.
“I’m very proud of the effort of some of our guys,” Giorlando said. “When you shoot well, the ball goes in, and you start to get some confidence.”
On the other hand, Davis raved about Timmons’ performance.
“That’s Kendall,” he said with a huge smile. “He can do that any night. Kendall is a complete player.”
With the outcome of Tuesday’s game never in much doubt, the thoughts of home-court fans drifted to other matters, particularly the Green Wave’s upcoming migration to the Big East. That included lifelong Tulane fan Vern Coy.
“It’s fantastic,” said Coy, who was sporting a green Tulane hat and matching T-shirt. “It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Tulane. We’ll be getting national exposure, and I think Tulane will be competitive and can play with everybody (in the Big East).”
The league shift was sinking in with the Tulane athletes as well. Davis said the squad found out about the announcement after practice.
“We were all in shock,” he said, “but it was a good shock. It was an exciting day.”
But what about playing such Big East basketball stalwarts as Georgetown and UConn?
“I believe we’ll meet the level of competition,” said Davis, who will graduate before the move to the Big East. “Everybody will play hard. We just have to believe.”
Tulane coach Ed Conroy agreed.
“There’s a great challenge there,” he said earlier in the day, “but there’s a great opportunity as well. And as competitors, we want that opportunity. I’m sure there are some young men out there who want that opportunity.”
Ted Lewis contributed
to this report.