Men’s Basketball Celebrates Homecoming With 78-69 Win Over Nicholls
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It was a day of celebration as the University of New Orleans capped its week-long Homecoming 2017 with a pair of basketball games in Lakefront Arena, and the men’s basketball team sent the crowd home happy as the Privateers defeated Southland Conference foe Nicholls, 78-69, on Saturday evening.
The two teams sat deadlocked at 37-37 at the end of the first half and were tied 39-all 2:20 in the second stanza, but the Privateers got back-to-back baskets by both Thomas and senior guard Nate Frye to go ahead by eight and never looked back. The win snapped a two-game skid for UNO, which improves to 13-9 overall and 8-3 in league play. The victory, combined with Abilene Christian’s 71-64 win over Sam Houston State earlier in the day, put the Privateers into a tie atop the SLC standing with seven regular-season games remaining. Nicholls, meanwhile, fell to 11-13 on the year and 4-7 in conference action.
“We came out [in the second half] with a lot more intensity and focus,” UNO head coach Mark Slessinger said. “We knew that we had played pretty hard in the first half, but the guys weren’t satisfied at halftime. They knew that they had to turn it up and they did a good job of that. I was very, very proud of the team’s effort. They played very hard and very unselfishly again. It got back to where we were prior to these two losses that we just went through.
“It was a good Homecoming night and a great game. Our women pulled off an incredible game as well, so it was double wins for everybody. It was a good night.”
As a team, New Orleans shot 50.9 percent from the field (27-of-53), including a.417 clip from beyond the 3-point arc (5-of-12). The Privateers out-rebounded the Colonels, 33-22, and turned 10 offensive rebounds into a dozen second-chance points. Defensively, UNO allowed Nicholls to shoot 47.2 percent for the game (25-of-53), including 11 3-pointers on 28 tries from downtown (.393), but held the Colonels to 39.3 percent overall in the second half (11-of-28). New Orleans forced 20 turnovers, 11 of which came over the final 20 minutes, and turned the Nicholls miscues into 23 points.
Senior forward Erik Thomas tallied a double-double with game-high marks of 26 points and 11 rebounds while chipping in with three assists and a pair of steals. He was one of four Privateers to post double figure scoring totals as senior guards Tevin Broyles, Christavious Gill and Nate Frye had 12, 10 and 10, respectively. Gill led UNO with four assists and junior forward Travin Thibodeaux, who was second to Thomas with nine rebounds, headlined the New Orleans defense with four steals. Junior forward Makur Puou paced the Privateers with four blocked shots.
“Erik continues to be a really efficient scorer and staying within the framework of what we’re doing,” Slessinger said. “The guys are finding him in the right places and the right times. Across the board – between Thomas, Thibodeaux, Makur and [Michael] Zeno – we’ve got as good a group of forwards as there is in this league. They play together. They play well. They’re skilled. They’re tough to deal with defensively. There are a lot of fun. And then we got some great contributions tonight off the bench from Zeno and [Jorge] Rosa. Nate Frye was tremendous again tonight and gave us some huge sparks. It was a great team effort.”
New Orleans found itself in trouble early on as Nicholls came out of the gate on fire and racing out to an early 8-2 lead. The Privateers answered with 9-2 run to go ahead 11-10 with 13:48 to go in the opening half and the two teams traded blows over the next three-plus minutes. Trailing 18-17 with 10:48 remaining before the break, UNO rattled off nine unanswered points to take an eight-point lead and later led by five at 37-32 with 2:09 on the clock. The Colonels rallied in both instances to tie the game and ledge was dead even at halftime.
The two teams managed a combined four points over the first 2:40 of the final frame before Thomas hit consecutive layups and Frye followed with two baskets of his own to stake the Privateers to a 47-39 lead. The Colonels answered with a 7-2 run to cut the deficit to three only to see UNO come right back with a layup by junior guard Jorge Rosa, a Frye 3-pointer and a Thibodeaux dunk to go up double figures at 56-46 with 8:42 to play.
New Orleans’ leads welled to as many as 14 at 63-49 just over two minutes later, but Nicholls refused to go away quietly and came right back with a 14-4 run over the next 4:56 to make it a four-point affair at 67-63. On the very next possession, Broyles drove the lane from the top of the key to convert a layup and the Privateers hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
“We knew that this was a very tough, explosive offensive team to deal with,” Slessinger said of the Colonels. “They shoot a ton of 3s. They’ve got multiple people that can shoot it and stretch the defense, put it off the bounce and take you. Liam Thomas is a skilled, big shot blocker that can do a lot of things and JáDanté Frye is one of the most versatile players in our league. We knew it was going to be a tough night. We were able to get some good runs in the second half to be able to stretch it out a bit, and we were able to make some clutch free throws down the stretch in the last two minutes. That was a big moment for us.”
Jahvaughn Powell led Nicholls with 25 points and a game-high nine assists. Lafayette Rutledge was the only other Colonel to score in double figures, finishing with 17 points thanks in large part to five 3-point baskets. Liam Thomas paced the squad with seven rebounds and four blocks while Johnathan Bell led the way defensively with three steals.