UNO win streak snapped as rally falls just short, 70-68, to Sam Houston State

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Travin Thibodeaux

BOX SCORE

Privateers rally from 14-point, second half deficit only to see Bearkats score late to come away on top

NEW ORLEANS – The University of New Orleans rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to tie things up at 67-all, but saw a game-tying free throw and a last second heave fall off the mark as the Privateers dropped a hard-fought, 70-68 decision to Southland Conference foe Sam Houston State on Thursday evening in Lakefront Arena.

Down 56-42 with 11:03 to go, UNO used a 25-11 rally over the next 9:47 – capped by a three-point play by junior forward Travin Thibodeaux – to even the score. Sam Houston State’s Chris Galbreath, Jr., answered for the Bearkats with a layup with 57 ticks remaining, and UNO had three chances on the ensuing possession to knot things up again but could only manage a trio of offensive rebounds.

Senior forward Erik Thomas, who finished with a game-high 25 points, gathered in the last of the loose balls during the flurry and was sent to the line on a foul by Torry Butler, but hit just 1-of-2 chances from the free throw line. The Privateers had new live momentarily as senior guard Nate Frye hauled in the loose ball, but was tied up by Butler on the way down and the possession arrow pointed in the Bearkats’ favor.

The Privateers fouled before the ball was inbounded and Aurimas Majauskas connected on 1-of-2 free throws with 1.6 second remaining for what proved to be the final margin. UNO had a chance to win the game with a miracle shot, but a three-quarter court attempt banged off the front of the rim as time expired.

“It was an incredible game down the stretch,” UNO head coach Mark Slessinger said. “We battled back from a double-digit deficit with 10 or 11 minutes to go. I was really proud of the way came back and fought. I was really disappointed that we didn’t play as well in the early half of the game. We knew it was going to be a tough battle and we knew it was going to come down the end, but we dug ourselves a couple of possessions too deep. We didn’t execute on offense early or rebound at a high level like we did in the back half of the game.”

The loss snapped New Orleans’ five-game winning streak and knocked the team for the ranks of undefeated in conference action as the Privateers fell to 9-7 overall and 4-1 in Southland play. Sam Houston State, meanwhile, won its third consecutive contest to improve to 12-7 on the year and 3-2 in the SLC.

Thomas was one of three Privateers to finish in double figures offensively as senior guards Christavious Gill and Nate Frye finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Thibodeaux was one point shy of a double-double with nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds and led all players with seven assists. Frye paced the defense with two steals and junior forward Makur Puou led the way at the rim with a pair of blocked shots.

As a team, New Orleans shot 43.1 percent from the field (22-of-51) and was 21-of-23 from the free throw line (.913). UNO held a 32-27 rebounding advantage and turned 12 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points. Sam Houston State, however, outscored the Privateers in the paint, 34-32, shot a 50.0 percent from the field (25-of-50) and got 32 points from its reserves to come out on top.

“We’re going to learn a lot from [this],” Slessinger said. “We need to come back and make sure we’re prepared and ready for a really tough game next Thursday night against Houston Baptist. We just have to be sharper. I thought we were a step slow offensively and didn’t play at the highest level that we could have. We also didn’t communicate at a high level, which is something that we’ve been good at on this run.

“Unfortunately for us, there was a lot at stake in this game, but it was a tournament-level game. It was a very good game and a competitive game. It’s one that we’ll take a lot on the positive end, too, just as much as we do on the negative end.”

UNO scored the game’s first points on a bucket by Thibodeaux 57 seconds into the contest, but that would be the Privateers’ lone lead of the night. From that point, the Bearkats used a 16-6 run to go ahead by eight and Sam Houston State’s first-half lead swelled to as many as 13 at 32-19 with 3:00 to play in the opening frame. The Privateers got a jumper by Puou and a pair of free throws by Thomas to get to within nine but Albert Almanza drained a 3-pointer for Sam Houston in the closing seconds of the stanza to take a 35-23 advantage into the locker room at the break.

Sam Houston State’s lead remained in double figures for most of the early going in the second half and a free throw by Galbreath, Jr., staked the Bearkats to their largest lead under nine minutes into the period. The Privateers chipped away at the lead several times only to see Sam Houston answer. With Bearkats leading 65-56 with 5:48 to play, however, New Orleans got a total of three free throws from Thomas and Frye, as well as a Thibodeaux layup to make it 65-61 just over two minutes later.

Following a jumper by Majauskas with 2:27 to play, Frye buried a 3-pointer the next time down the floor to cut the lead in half. From there, Thibodeaux stole the ball from Majauskas, converted a layup despite a Galbreath, Jr., foul to tie the game and set up the wild finish.

“It was special,” Slessinger said of his team’s comeback effort. “It was what we expect. It’s what we have come to expect from this group. They fought together and they played as a unit. We had incredible energy on the bench. They came through, but we just came up a little bit short down the stretch. We’re going to take a lot from this game. We’ll have opportunities to learn from it and grow from it.”

Galbreath, Jr., led Sam Houston State with 21 points and seven rebounds off the bench while Majauskas and Paul Baxter added 10 points apiece. John Dewey, III, paced the Bearkats with six assists and two steals.

The Privateers return to action on Thursday, Jan. 19, when they play host to Houston Baptist in Lakefront Arena, and tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. For tickets to that game, as well as future Privateer Athletics events, contact the UNO Athletics Ticket Office over the phone at (504) 280-GAME (4263) or via the Internet by clicking HERE.

COACH SLESSINGER’S QUOTES FOLLOWING THURSDAY’S 70-68 LOSS TO SAM HOUSTON STATE

Overall thoughts on the game
“It was an incredible game down the stretch. We battled back from a double-digit deficit with 10 or 11 minutes to go. I was really proud of the way came back and fought. I was really disappointed that we didn’t play as well in the early half of the game. We knew it was going to be a tough battle and we knew it was going to come down the end, but we dug ourselves a couple of possessions too deep. We didn’t execute on offense early or rebound at a high level like we did in the back half of the game.”

On what he takes from this contest
“We’re going to learn a lot from it. We’re going to get in and do a lot of work on film tomorrow. In practice, we’ll go back and reteach some of the things we didn’t do right and hopefully fix several of those things. We need to come back and make sure we’re prepared and ready for a really tough game next Thursday night against Houston Baptist. We just have to be sharper. I thought we were a step slow offensively and didn’t play at the highest level that we could have. We also didn’t communicate at a high level, which is something that we’ve been good at on this run. Unfortunately for us, there was a lot at stake in this game, but it was a tournament-level game. It was a very good game and a competitive game. It’s one that we’ll take a lot on the positive end, too, just as much as we do on the negative end.”

On the way his team rallied to erase a 14-point, second half deficit
“It was special. It was what we expect. It’s what we have come to expect from this group. They fought together and they played as a unit. We had incredible energy on the bench. They came through, but we just came up a little bit short down the stretch. We’re going to take a lot from this game. We’ll have opportunities to learn from it and grow from it.”

On Sam Houston State and where his team sits after five Southland games
“They played well. We’re happy to be in first still. We’re glad we built ourselves a little bit of cushion, but it all starts over tomorrow. We got back to work tomorrow. We just have to trust the process and get better.”

On what UNO will work on in the coming week in preparation for games against Houston Baptist and Central Arkansas
“We have to clean up some things that weren’t good in the first half. We’ve got to go back and prepare. We’re going to see zone next week as well, against both HBU and UCA. They’re both very, very good teams. We know that we’re going to have to execute at a high level. We just have to get back and keep improving as a team. We’ve got to have more guys contribute. We’ve got to shoot a little bit better from the perimeter. We have to get back to just improving. There isn’t any one thing that we’ve got to fix. We just have to keep working on the process of getting better each day.”

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Richie Weaver

Richie Weaver

Director of Athletic Media Relations, University of New Orleans

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