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New Orleans edges Islanders in OT 68-65, punches ticket to Big Dance - Mar 14, 2017


POSTED BY:
IGOR OBRADOVIC
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Mark
Slessinger
A dream 21 years in the making was finally realized on Saturday night, and while it took an extra five minutes to accomplish it, New Orleans' men's basketball team made the wait worthwhile for their school and city.
Timely free throw shooting and a dominating edge on the offensive glass propelled the Privateers to a 68-65 overtime victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at the Merrell Center, giving the program its first Southland Conference Men's Basketball Tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the first for top-seed New Orleans since 1996.
'I told these guys at halftime that this has been an amazing story,' said New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger .
'It's a story about rebirth, renaissance and it's a story of commitment of when guys come together playing for a purpose and love of the game, our love for each other, our university and the city that we absolutely adore and love that some magic stuff can happen.'
The Privateers (20-11) trailed by 10 points in the first half and were down nine early in the second half before forging their way back into the contest. Neither team led by more than four points after Michael Zeno (6'6''-G/F-95)'s layup drew New Orleans into a 42-42 tie with 12:22 left in regulation as the thriller became the first Southland Conference Men's Tournament final to go into overtime since Sam Houston State outlasted rival Stephen F. Austin to capture the 2003 title.
Rebounding, especially on the offensive end, proved to be a golden ticket for New Orleans. The Privateers owned a 40-25 edge on the glass, but it was their 19 offensive rebounds that helped keep them in the contest. The ability to control the paint resulted in a decisive 21-2 in second chance points for the Privateers.
'That's what they do,' said Islanders head coach Willis Wilson , whose team fell short in the tournament final for a second straight season. 'They pound the glass.'
Said Slessinger, 'We made a change of course in the off season to where we said we were going to make a concerted effort to play big. We put all our money into that race, and that's what we went with.'
Nate Frye (6'0''-PG-94), who hit a three-pointer at the end of the first half to help rally the Privateers, forced the extra session by knocking home a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left to tie the score at 60-each, yet New Orleans had to survive another white-knuckle moment when Cole Martinez (6'2''-G-93) narrowly missed a potential title-clinching three-pointer with five seconds left in regulation.
'I just thanked God he missed it,' said Privateers guard Christavious Gill (5'8''-PG-94), who scored 10 points and provided just enough of a distraction for Martinez to miss his only three-pointer in six attempts from beyond the arc.
Frye's jumper just 15 minutes into the extra session gave New Orleans the lead that was short lived as Martinez hit a triple that allowed the Islanders to seize a 63-62 advantage. The basket was the high-water mark for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, as it proved to be the last field goal they would score in the final 4:23.
After Travin Thibodeaux (6'9''-F-96) hit one of two free throws to tie the score for the 11th and final time, Tevin Broyles (6'4''-G-95) gave New Orleans the lead for good with a jumper with 3:01 left. The Islanders stayed close and had a chance to force a second overtime, but Rashawn Thomas (6'8''-F-94) missed a three-pointer with eight seconds left that set the stage for the Privateers to return to the NCAA Tournament.
For New Orleans, the moment was one the team, university and city will have frozen in time for years to come.
'It was unreal,' said Gill. 'I would watch it on TV and see other teams win tournaments, and I was like, 'I want to be there one day.' I just felt like it was a dream come true.'
'All our hard work and dedication just turned out for us,' said Tournament Most Valuable Player Erik Thomas (6'5''-F-95), who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
After an initial stretch of ebbs and flow for both teams, it was the shooting of Kilgore that began to give the Islanders an offensive groove. Playing in front of friends and family, the former Dekaney High School standout hit five of his eight attempts in the first half, including consecutive jumpers down the stretch that gave Texas A&M-Corpus Christi a 33-23 lead.
The lead, and momentum, started favoring the Privateers when Frye sank a deep three as the horn sounded for intermission, cutting New Orleans' deficit to 33-26 at the half.
Thomas was joined on the All-Tourney team by Gill, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Thomas and Martinez and Leon Gilmore (6'7''-F) III of Stephen F. Austin.
For Slessinger, a longtime coach in the Southland Conference, the chance to carry the banner of the league is a task he'd long dreamed of doing as a head coach.
'It's a big banner for our program,' he said. 'I take a lot of pride in this.'

Southland Conf. Tournament Final:
New Orleans - A&M-Corpus Christi 68-65, OT
Southland Conf. Tournament Semifinals:
New Orleans - Sam Houston State 75-63
A&M-Corpus Christi - Stephen F. Austin 77-69

Courtesy of Southland   




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