Tulane’s slow rise from obscurity continues with victory over Georgia Tech

For Tulane, arguably its ugliest performance of the season came in its biggest game to date.

The fact that the Green Wave came out victorious told second-year coach Ed Conroy all he needed to know about his team, which features 11 new names on this season's roster.

Thanks to a monster first half from freshman point guard Ricky Tarrant, then huge plays down the stretch by stars Kendall Timmons and Josh Davis, Tulane downed Georgia Tech, 57-52, on Saturday afternoon in front of a raucous Fogelman Arena crowd. It made the Green Wave the nation's first 9-win team, and gave the program its first 9-0 start since the 1991-92 season.

Tulane's 8-0 record coming into the weekend didn't get much attention nationally, largely because of who it had faced during that stretch. When it came time for them to play a brand-name opponent, though, Conroy said his club drew from the confidence built during the first eight outings.

"Things didn't go our way today, but we dug down and found a way to win," Conroy said afterwards. "It was a good atmosphere here, and it's good to see that atmosphere back. The crowd was really responding to this team."

Early on, it was Tarrant getting the crowd of 3,170 going, as he caught fire in the first half from deep. Despite entering the game as a 35.7 percent 3-point shooter, he hit six of seven attempts from deep before the break, giving Tulane a 33-26 lead while Timmons and Davis were bottled up.

"It was really fun and great to see a freshman embrace the environment like that," Conroy said. "In practice, he really makes a high percentage of shots, but in trying to be a point guard, he doesn't always take them in games. We weren't able to get too much going on offense, and he took it upon himself to do so."

Georgia Tech, who is still struggling to find an identity under first-year coach Brian Gregory, did a good job in the second half of keeping Timmons and Davis out of the game offensively, but Tulane's two cornerstone pieces to this point in the year refused to fade away. {YSP:MORE}

Trailing 52-52 with 43 seconds left to play, Timmons jumped a pass thrown by Mfon Udofia across the perimeter and took it the other way for a go-ahead dunk. Then on the ensuing Tech possession, Davis swatted a Udofia layup attempt on the left block. Two free throws apiece from him and Tarrant sealed it up.

It was definitely a different kind of test for Conroy's team, who had won its first eight games by an average margin of 22.4 points, with six of those wins coming by 19 points or more. A victory over a down Georgia Tech squad won't necessarily scream 'quality win' if the Green Wave are trying to make an at-large argument come March, but for a program that hasn't had much to brag about since the mid-1990s, its a major step forward.

Tulane's Tuesday trip to face Wofford will be no walk in the park, but if it can survive that, Conroy could very well be taking his team to Syracuse on Dec. 22 with a 12-0 record.

Either way, the Green Wave look like a team that could cause some fits in Conference USA this season. In Timmons, they have an aggressive 6-foot-5 junior wing who can cause fits on both ends of the floor, while Davis — a sophomore North Carolina State transfer — is averaging a double-double through nine games. Tarrant, for a freshman, has been solid in not turning the ball over while learning to find a balance between when to score and when to create. 6-foot guard Jordan Callahan — last season's second-leading scorer behind Timmons — is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, and 7-foot junior Thomas Bruha is providing an intimidating presence inside.

The future is bright, as all five current starters are underclassmen, and Conroy has, among other things, a brand new $14 million practice facility to sell to recruits. He said he's also preaching to prospective recruits the idea of helping the program rise from tough times along with the city itself.

"The biggest thing is people have to believe," said Conroy, who came to Tulane last year after holding the same post at The Citadel for four seasons. "I think here is a case where not only do you have to believe in Tulane, but in New Orleans and our commitment to the basketball program.

"It's a great place, and there's a lot of energy here. We're the only Division-I team in the city, and we need to represent New Orleans. I think the people here are catching on."

Follow Ryan Greene on Twitter: @ryanmgreene

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