Facing a team that was one of the worst in the American Athletic Conference a year ago, Temple came out flat in its league opener and paid the price.
The Owls allowed Tulane to open up a double-digit lead in the first half and couldn’t rally, trailing for the final 39 minutes of an 85-75 defeat at the Liacouras Center on Thursday evening.
Temple (7-5) played with about as much energy as the Liacouras Center, which was lacking any sort of student presence because of winter break. Temple shot 44.8 percent overall (30 of 67) but just 19 percent from three-point range (4 of 21), committing 12 turnovers, missing numerous layups and air-balling several wide-open jumpers.
Since they started off the season 3-0, with wins over Auburn and Clemson, the Owls have gone 4-5.
“We’ve just got to get back to playing the same basketball,” junior guard Shizz Alston said. “Picking up defense and starting out early. … As of late, we’ve been letting teams go up by 10, 11 in the first half and trying to fight back.”
Winners of only six games a year ago — and only three in AAC play — the much-improved Green Wave (10-3, 1-0) left the Liacouras Center with four more victories than they’d had in all of 2016-17.
Mike Dunleavy’s squad showed why in controlling the entire first half, leading by as many as 14 in the opening 20 minutes and by nine at halftime.
The second half played out like an accordion — Temple would get within a couple of buckets before Tulane would stretch it back out to eight or 10. The Owls last got within four points with 6 minutes, 46 seconds to play, but the Green Wave scored 11 of the next 15 points to go up 73-62 with 3:51 left.
One last push cut the advantage to four with 1:11 left on a three-point play by sophomore Quinton Rose, but Tulane scored the next six points to put the game away.
“We had our chances a couple [times], we had some decent looks when we were down four,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “Certainly, the first half was a killer for us.”
Junior wing Melvin Frazier, Tulane’s leading scorer this season, paced his team with 25 points, including a windmill slam to close out the scoring. Cameron Reynolds added 17 and 10 rebounds for the Green Wave, who had four players in double figures.
Rose and Alston paced the Owls with 17 points apiece.