“We have some veteran leaders in that locker room. I think that group has a competitive spirit about them, and that’s why I think we improve throughout the game.” Ed Conroy, Tulane coach
NEW ORLEANS — Tulane’s men’s basketball team has found its answers in the locker room.
In compiling its current three-game winning streak, the Green Wave (10-3) has found its highest gear after halftime, blowing out opponents by an average of 17 points in the second half.
Whether it’s midgame adjustments to pregame scouting reports or a simple improvement in focus, Tulane coach Ed Conroy has been impressed with his team’s responsiveness.
“So much of what we do is based on reads and how the other team is playing us,” Conroy said. “As our guys get more comfortable in each game, they get more successful in making those reads and doing what’s needed to be done to make us more successful after 20 minutes of experience.
“At the same time, we have some veteran leaders in that locker room. I think that group has a competitive spirit about them, and that’s why I think we improve throughout the game, as well as throughout the year.”
Tulane hopes the trend continues at 5 p.m. Sunday when it travels to Alabama to face the Crimson Tide (7-4) at Coleman Coliseum.
It serves as the Green Wave’s final opportunity to notch a win against a power conference team, after losing road games at Georgia Tech and Nebraska earlier in the year. Sunday’s game also provides a rare chance for Tulane to propel its RPI well beyond its current mediocre ranking of 196, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
While Tulane has compiled 10 wins, its strength of schedule has drowned out any early postseason chatter. Six of those victories came against teams with an RPI rated worse than 300, and its best RPI victory was a 68-65 win over No. 114 Southern.
Alabama, despite losing four of its past five games, is rated No. 53, Tulane’s highest-rated opponent thus far.
“We understand the importance of building momentum and beating teams that are similar to what we’ll face in conference,” Conroy said.
“But with the way we’ve been playing the past few games, especially in the second half, I feel like our record is a pretty accurate reflection of where we are. If we can maintain that, and come out of this holiday break focused and ready to play, I expect us to have similar results.”
The second half hasn’t been the only area of adjustment in the Green Wave’s routine, spurring consecutive lopsided victories over Texas-Pan American, Pepperdine and Hofstra. A twist in Tulane’s starting lineup also provided a jolt of energy at the game’s onset.
Since replacing 7-foot center Tomas Bruha with 6-foot-6 forward Tre Drye at the start of its winning streak, Tulane has boosted its energy and quickness on the floor. The smaller lineup also unclogged the lane, allowing Conroy to create mismatches in the paint on the offensive end.
Junior forward Josh Davis has reaped the benefits as Tulane’s primary post presence, averaging 20 points and eight rebounds since the lineup change, leading the Green Wave in both categories.
“The lineup we have used the last bit here has unquestionably given us a bit of a boost, and we’ve gotten off to a much better start in both halves,” Conroy said. “That lineup is going to have merit all year, regardless of who we play. I think post players can play bigger than their size and have proven that. I can see us going with that for a while.
“Every one of those guys in that five can go in the post and make plays around the basket. Josh Davis is a huge matchup problem for opposing teams, and the numbers bear that out.”
However, Conroy admits Alabama’s typical lineup features an equal mixture of speed and explosiveness, relying on guards to produce its offense. The Tide’s top four scorers — Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — are all natural backcourt players.
It sets the stage for a game predicated on quickness, ball-handling and rebounding, areas Conroy believes his team is up to the challenge.
“Alabama’s backcourt is just tremendous, and along with being quick, they are very physical,” Conroy said. “It’s going to be a really good matchup because I’m ready to see how we can play against a team like that.
“We’re not where I’d like us to be just yet, but I think we’re further along than last year and the year before that as far as being a physically tough basketball team. I’m excited to see what we can do.”