NEW ORLEANS — For Ed Conroy, it was a breathtaking first win in Conference USA play.
As the game’s final minute devolved into a mad scramble, Tulane’s coach could only look on in horror as Tulsa’s full-court press suffocated the Green Wave, forcing a five-second inbounds penalty that led to a Pat Swilling Jr. 3 -pointer, before forcing Tulane to burn its final timeout clinging to a one-point lead.
Then, Conroy sighed with deep relief as Tulsa’s three potential game-tying 3-point attempts and even a critical free throw rimmed out, allowing the Green Wave (13-5, 1-2) to hang on for a critical 75-72 win.
The win snapped Tulane’s 10-game losing streak against C-USA opponents and a five-game drought against Tulsa that dated to Jan. 21, 2009.
“As a coach, you’re always paranoid,” Conroy said. “We didn’t work on our pressure and late-game situations this week because we worked so hard on sharing the basketball. But you feel like you have it covered with two seniors out there. We executed well enough down the stretch to win, but it was disappointing how we handled the ball at those times.”
For its work in most of the other 39 minutes, Conroy praised Tulane’s toughness and tenacity, particularly forward Josh Davis (19 points) and guard Ricky Tarrant (game-high 21 points) who combined to shoot 10-of-20 from the field.
The pair also were 16-of-19 on free throws, including 4-of-5 in the final minute to keep the Golden Hurricane (11-8, 3-2) down by at least three points during the final flurry.
“We made a lot of free throws,” Tarrant said. “We are a great free-throw shooting team, and we did a great job of moving the ball and not being selfish. And when you have teammates who can find you on the move and get you to the free-throw line, it can get you a lot of shots.”
Tulane jumped out to an early 13-point lead in the first half before Tulsa answered with a 38-20 run over the ensuing 15 minutes and appeared to be pulling away to a road win.
Then, right as Tulsa took its largest lead of the game at 54-49, Davis, who had compiled 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the game’s first 30 minutes, was forced to the bench after committing his fourth foul with 9:23 remaining, leaving a major hole in the Green Wave’s attack.
Luckily for Tulane, its backcourt arrived just in time.
Tarrant knocked down a pair of free throws and a layup, and dished a perfect assist to Louis Dabney. Kendall Timmons then completed an 8-0 run with a driving layup at the rim. The burst reversed the entire second half’s momentum, and Tulane never trailed again.
“When Josh went out, we really did a nice job of keeping our composure,” Tarrant said. “I mean Lou Dabney came in and a good job, and of course Kendall, the senior, stepped up and got us in the huddle and told us what we needed to do.”
Even after Davis returned, Tarrant remained the focal point of Tulane’s offense, burying two more 3-pointers in the final five minutes to buoy the Green Wave. Davis chipped in as well, finishing just two assists shy of a triple-double while committing only a single turnover.
It was a significant improvement for Tulane’s offense, which averaged 62.5 points in losses to UTEP and SMU, and came against Tulsa’s staunch defense, which entered Saturday allowing the second-fewest points in C-USA.
“I think we can play better than we did defensively tonight. But offensively, we took a team that’s really good defensively and put them on their heels,” Conroy said. “They actually started coming out and pressuring a little more and spreading out because we moved the ball from side to side so well, from start to finish. It really caused some problems.”