Tulane basketball coach Ron Hunters entertaining revival show plays well on the road, too.
Continuing to resuscitate a program that appeared dead on his arrival, Hunter guided the Green Wave (5-1) to two wins in three games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational over the weekend.
He playfully asked athletic director Troy Dannen for an immediate raise in his postgame interview on ESPNU. He already has raised expectations exponentially in his first season, surpassing last years victory total in just six games.
After losing to 2019 NCAA tournament No. 5 seed Mississippi State in its Myrtle Beach opener, Tulane rebounded by beating Middle Tennessee 86-74 and Utah 65-61 for fifth place on Sunday morning.
A lot of guys did a lot of good things and I learned a lot about my team, Hunter said. Its a Power-5 (conference opponent) win and thats very important for us. To come back and win two games like we just did shows Tulane basketball is back.
The way the Wave beat the Utes meant as much as the result. Trailing 55-47 with 6:30 left, Tulane outscored Utah 18-6 down the stretch, overcoming a missed wide-open dunk by standout freshman Nobal Days in the process.
Reserve guard Ray Ona Embo started the finishing kick with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 55-50, and the Wave ended on an 10-0 run. Jordan Walker hit a pair of short, pull-up jumpers in the lane around a Days layup to tie it at 61. Leading scorer Teshaun Hightower made another short jumper to give the Wave the lead after Christion Thompson ripped an offensive rebound away from a defender.
Thompson sealed the deal by hitting two free throws with two seconds left.
Utah missed its last four shots and committed two turnovers.
Were really proud of our guys, Hunter said. I had talked the last seven months since I took this job, how were we going to handle adversity? In the past its been a struggle at Tulane. We got down eight, missed a dunk and our kids could have folded then. They just kept on and defensively we were unbelievable.
Multiple players stepped up at different times in the tournament for Tulane.
Thompson exploded for 25 second-half points on 8-of-10 shooting against Middle Tennessee, when Tulane led by as much as 24. Hightower added 20 points, shooting 16 free throws because of his aggressiveness and hitting 13 of them.
Walker handed out 12 assists with six steals in the final two games. White hot from 3-point range at the beginning of the year, he stepped inside the line when he cooled off and hit the two huge mid-range shots against Utah.
Swingman K.J. Lawson scored in double figures in all three games, averaging 14.7 points while hitting 7 of 13 3-pointers.
Days supplanted Kevin Zhang as the starting center in the past two games, grabbing six rebounds in the first and scoring 10 points in the second.
Adapting to Hunters matchup-zone defense quickly, the Wave forced 25 turnovers against Mississippi State, 17 against Middle Tennessee and 20 against Utah.
With the November portion of the schedule over, Tulane hosts Southern on Sunday but will stay on the road for most of December. The Wave plays at Southern Miss on Dec. 4, faces St. Louis in Arizona on Dec. 8, has a home game with Alcorn State on Dec. 16 and plays Akron on Dec. 20 in the first of two games at the DC Holiday Hoops Fest Tournament in the nations capital.
The bonding already has begun, with Hunter continuing to crack one-liners as he enjoys the ride.
This is the first time we spent some time together out of New Orleans as a group, he said after Sunday's win. Were kind of learning each other that way, theyve got to learn their crazy coach, the things he likes, the things he doesnt like. So many great things, man. I almost gave them two days off, then I had to gather myself for a minute."
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