NEW ORLEANS — It’s rare to see career records get set off the bench.
But regardless of when Tulane guard Jordan Callahan entered the game Saturday afternoon, his blazing performance from beyond the arc allowed him to earn the title of Tulane’s all-time leader in converted 3-pointers (196, breaking Jerald Honeycutt’s record set in 1997).
His six 3-pointers and 20 points also propelled the Green Wave (17-9, 5-6 Conference USA) to a 78-67 men’s college basketball win over SMU at Devlin Fieldhouse. It marked Tulane’s third win in its past four games, ensuring the Green Wave will finish with a winning season for the first time since 2007-08 and its best conference record since 2008-09.
The winning patch displays an improvement Callahan said he appreciates, even more than the record, as a senior leader who five games ago took his move to the bench, after 85 consecutive starts, in stride.
“I actually get more psyched watching for the first couple of minutes,” Callahan said. “I like to kind of coach them up, and it gets me going, and it gives me more energy when I’m coming off of the bench.”
But what Callahan watched in the opening 10 minutes on Saturday was the Green Wave replicating its performance from the 59-53 loss to SMU on Jan. 12 in Dallas. The Mustangs (13-13, 3-8) charged out of the gate, jumping out to a 17-3 lead in the opening nine minutes by pounding a small Green Wave lineup in the paint and frustrating Tulane’s shooters with their length and zone defense.
However, once the Wave cracked the zone, SMU’s defense practically crumbled. Led by Callahan and top scorer Ricky Tarrant’s combined 45 points and 12 3-pointers, Tulane thrived in applying pressure against the scrambling Mustangs defense.
After missing 10 of its first 11 shots from the field, the Green Wave shot 56 percent the rest of the way. Tulane rallied from a deficit of at least 14 points for the third consecutive game, this time on the strength of a 30-9 run, to take a 33-29 lead into halftime.
“To come out in those first five or six minutes tonight and play like that, really put us on our heels a little bit,” Conroy said. “But our guys, maybe we have too much experience at it, but what mental toughness to come back like that. We were at home, not making great decisions, and I think our team chemistry came through there. They still trusted each other.”
For much of the game, Tulane focused its attention on the perimeter, running a four-guard lineup with either Josh Davis or Tre Drye manning the middle alone.
The overload of quickness forced the Mustangs to scramble defensively, leaving shooters open.
“It gave us a big advantage with the four guards there and Josh at the five,” Tarrant said. “Their five couldn’t cover Josh, and even when he was coming from the wing, they couldn’t box him out, and we had open shots everywhere.”
The Green Wave was 9-of-13 on 3-pointers in the second half as it cranked up the pace on both ends.
Defensively, Tulane employed spurts of full-court press, which helped force 10 steals and 20 turnovers. Although Tulane was outscored 38-14 in the lane, its 3-point prowess and 26 points off turnovers kept the momentum squarely on its side during the final 30 minutes.
“We have to play with great energy,” Conroy said. “They probably shot a higher percentage (56.3) than we would have liked, and they hurt us on points in the paint, but I told the guys sometimes we are going to have to trade two for three. Let’s go to the next play and get it out of the net fast and take it right back at them.
“Tonight there were three or four possessions where they got a layup and Kendall Timmons had it out of the net and up to Ricky at half court before they could even turn around.”
Now, the Green Wave finds itself in a position it hasn’t been under Conroy at this time of the year: fighting for the postseason. With a winning record now guaranteed, Tulane is pushing for a top-5 spot in the Conference USA standings to earn a bye in the league tournament, which will have only 11 teams this season because of Central Florida’s postseason ban, over the final five games.
Conroy also said he believes the administration is open to entering the team in minor national tournaments like the CBI and CIT if the Green Wave either does not win the conference tournament or get selected for the NIT. Tulane has not reached the postseason since the 2000 NIT.
“It definitely feels different, but I think what it makes it different in a real positive way is this team has a real hunger to improve,” Conroy said. “They want to hear the next thing we are going to get better at, and know what didn’t they do as well as they should have done. That gives me great hope as we go through this last month, because those are the teams that have a lot of fun in February and March.”