Ricky Tarrant saved Tulane's season.
In what was close to a must-win game, it is a massive understatement to say Tulane appeared to be in trouble when power forward Josh Davis picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench with 9:37 left against Tulsa. The Green Wave, which had led 29-16 in the first half, trailed 54-49 and was doing nothing right. Davis exited with team highs in points (15), rebounds (eight) and assists (six).
But Tarrant, the 2011-12 Conference USA freshman of the year, wouldn't let them lose. He drove hard to the basket and drew a foul, sinking two free throws, and penetrated to the hoop for a layup the next time down the court, cutting the deficit to 54-53.
After Davis returned at the 5:48 mark, Tarrant pulled up for a 3-pointer to give the Wave the lead, 64-61. The next time down the court, he sank another trey off a pass from Davis to make the score 67-61.
Tulane led the rest of the way, surviving some shaky moments in the final minutes and multiple potential tying 3-point shots by Tulsa to win 75-72 on Saturday afternoon at Devlin Fieldhouse. Tulsa guard Pat Swilling Jr., the son of former New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl linebacker Pat Swilling, helped out by missing the second of three free throws after being fouled by Tre Drye on a 3-point try with 18.7 seconds left.
Ultimately, though, the Golden Hurricane had no answer for Tarrant.
Tarrant scored 15 of his 21 points after Davis' fourth foul, including hitting three of four free throws in the last 53.7 seconds.
"It was a great win," Tarrant said. "Tulsa is very good defensively and we put up 75 points on them."
Tarrant refused to take credit for his offensive surge, praising senior leader Kendall Timmons, who had a key layup, and freshman Louis Dabney, who converted a nice layup in transition to give the Wave a 55-54 lead.
Of course, Tarrant fed him with a beautiful pass on that play.
"He (Tarrant) was really positive all night," coach Ed Conroy said. "Even when someone made a mistake, he did a great job of going to the next play. He had a solid all-around game. He had one forced shot under the basket, but other than that he moved the ball."
After his fantastic freshman debut, Tarrant was supposed to deliver this type of performance all year. Instead, he has been mired in a season-long shooting slump, struggling between being too aggressive and too passive as the Green Wave lost its first two Conference USA games.
Saturday's win doesn't guarantee anything, but consider the alternative. If the Wave (13-5, 1-2 C-USA) had lost, it would have fallen to 0-3 heading into a trip to league favorite Memphis and moved perilously close to another long season.
"It feels great to get that win," Tarrant said. "We struggled the last two games. If we do the things that we can do, we know that we can beat any team."
They had not beaten any Conference USA teams since routing Houston last Feb. 4, losing 10 league games in a row since then, but Tulsa was a good start. The Golden Hurricane (11-8. 3-2) had held its opponents to 51 points or fewer in its three conference victories.
"It's just one step," Davis said. "We're glad, but we have a long way to go."
As ugly as the ending could have been, with Jordan Callahan turning the ball over on an inbounds pass one time and having to call a timeout to avoid a 5-second call on the next one, the win provided a potential blueprint for success. Davis was big across the board, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, three more than any other game of his career. Aggressive without being reckless after two awful offensive games to start C-USA play, Tulane shot 29 free throws and made 23.
Tarrant took over at winning time.
And with center Tomas Bruha possibly sidelined for the year with another leg injury he sustained in practice on Thursday, Conroy found a small lineup that worked down the stretch. When Davis got his fourth foul, he inserted Dabney (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), Tarrant's normal backup, for him.
It was the first time in his coaching career Conroy could recall subbing the same guy in at point guard and power forward in a game.
Tulane immediately went on an 8-0 run, and Dabney, who entered with a scoring average of 1.0 in 4.5 minutes, played a role.
"Flat out, he's the toughest guy we've got," Conroy said. "In the first half he was guarding (Tulsa guard Scottie Haralson), who turned into the post, and he met him with just a brick-solid chest, and the guy threw up a bad shot. Lou is our toughest guy."
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