Riptide’s Reflections: Iron Sharpens Iron

Jeremy Rosen, Sports Editor

Riptide’s Reflections is The Tulane Hullabaloo’s weekly column talking all things Tulane athletics. Join us every week for in-depth coverage, analysis and opinion of the Green Wave. 

Tulane men’s basketball played their hearts out at home in one of the toughest matchups possible. The Green Wave hosted the dominant Houston Cougars, currently ranked No. 1 in the entire country. The Cougars lived up to their reputation in this matchup, shooting lights out on the way to an 80-60 victory.

This was the most highly anticipated home game at the Avron B. Fogelman Arena in Devlin Fieldhouse in recent memory. The Green Wave was coming off a five game win streak that placed them second in the American Athletic Conference behind Houston. Excitement in Tulane athletics are at an all-time high after the football team’s incredible season and Cotton Bowl victory, and the fans came out in droves for this conference showdown. The arena was rocking with a sold-out crowd, and hundreds of students were left waiting outside for a spot in the packed student section. 

The Green Wave played hard and fast in the first half. Tulane plays with one of the fastest paces in the country at 75.9 possessions per game, hoping to score fast and often. Houston’s game plan is slower and more methodical, using up more of the shot clock to get better shot attempts. The Cougars got out to an early lead and maintained a multiple-possession lead throughout the half. A clutch and-one 3-pointer from Jaylen Forbes just before halftime electrified the crowd and cut the lead to 8.

The team came out of the halftime break looking to strike a comeback. After giving up eight straight points to open the half, the Green Wave went on a tear. Three free throws from Forbes kicked off an 11-1 run that cut the Houston lead to just five at 54-49 with 11 minutes left in the game. A driving-and-one shot from Jalen Cook and Forbes’s fourth three of the game amped up the crowd going into the media timeout. 

Unfortunately, the team was simply gassed coming out of the timeout, and Houston unleashed a barrage of jumpers that Tulane simply couldn’t slow down. Head Coach Ron Hunter played his starters extremely heavy minutes in this game, having four of them play at least 36 minutes throughout the match. Houston relied on their deep rotation of guards throughout the match, giving their key players enough energy down the stretch to put the game away. They kept their foot on the gas until the final whistle, defeating the Green Wave 80-60.

The difference maker in this game was the shooting. Both teams took nearly half of their shots from behind the 3-point line, and Houston sank them at a much higher rate. They shot an extremely efficient 50% from behind the arc, while Tulane struggled with just 23.1%. Houston has the top defense in the country, and they clamped down on the team’s ordinarily-strong offensive game plan, which is tied for the 25th best offense in the country.

After the game, Hunter commended the Cougars on their performance, stating they “earned the right to be the number one team in the country, … but we earned the right to be playing this type of game.” He said he knew he was going to “ride or die” with his starters going into this big matchup, relying heavily on his skilled veteran core to push through the tough defense in big moments.

Forbes led the way for the team this game with 23 points, nailing four three pointers and making eight trips to the free throw line. Cook and Kevin Cross were major contributors with 15 and 12 points respectively, doing most of their damage inside the paint. Sion James was a crucial swiss army knife this game, doing the dirty work for the Green Wave. He led the team with nine rebounds, disrupted the Cougar offense with four steals and dished out two assists to his teammates.

Hunter described the game as a matchup between the “two best guards in this league:  Sasser and Forbes.” Marcus Sasser, the veteran guard for Houston, had an extremely impressive night with 23 points and seven 3-pointers. Hunter gave tremendous praise to Forbes, saying he’d “go to war with this dude,” and that he’s too important to the team to sit him out too long during games. 

Tulane holds onto their spot in second in the AAC after the loss with a 5-2 conference record, but teams like Central Florida and Cincinnati aren’t too far behind. The team will get a chance to rest for a couple days before going back on the road to face Tulsa and Wichita State.

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