KATY, Texas – One down, three to go. No. 5 University of New Orleans (15-15) defeated No. 8 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (11-18) 83-76 in the first round of the 2018 Southland Conference Tournament Wednesday evening at the Merrell Center. The win propels the Privateers to a matchup with No. 4 Sam Houston State University (18-13) tomorrow at 5 p.m.
The 57.1 percent shooting is the highest field goal percentage since UNO shot 57.8 percent in a win over Abilene Christian University February 28, 2015. Privateers debuting in Southland postseason play shined as #SCtop10 hopeful Damion Rosser scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and added seven rebounds – five offensive – in his first tournament game. Ezekiel Charles followed tying his season-high of 15 points with seven rebounds. The junior was 3-of-5 from three-point range. Scott Plaisance finished with 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot, Lamont Berzat added 11 points – eight from the charity stripe – and dished out a career-high eight dimes off the bench and fellow #SCtop10 Diontae Champion added eight points. All five made their postseason debut Wednesday but head coach Mark Slessinger was impressed by the effort made by the entire squad.
“When putting a halo around a player tonight, we have to begin with Michael Zeno. I don’t know what it is about this gym, but he brings it here. Tyren Harrisonplayed well off the bench (five points, eight rebounds) and overall, I was pleased with our pace.”
QUEST TO REPEAT
“Our expectation is to compete for a championship. We have eight new guys this season and we are right back where we want to be. We hit some bumps along the way. I am very proud of our team and very proud to represent our city, university and community.”
ON TONIGHT’S ENERGY
“We’ve been up and down from the tip this season. Ezekiel played with poise and did an excellent job of getting us off to a good start. Every time we needed a basket, we were able to get one.”
ON TOMORROW’S OPPONENT
“We have to cut our turnovers against one of the best defenses in the country. They earned the coveted bye and were able to watch us tonight but our guys are ready and excited for the opportunity to take on a well-coached team and look to continue to move on in this tournament.”
New Orleans rode the hot hand of Charles and the defense of Plaisance early in the contest to a 11-6 lead prior to the under-16 media. Charles scored five points and Scottie P picked up a block and steal.
After five unanswered by the Islanders, UNO quickly picked up six on back-to-back triples by Charles (second of game) and Berzat. Champion followed a TAMUCC trey with a putback layup to give the Silver and Blue a 19-13 lead at the under-12 break.
The lead reached double figures on Makur Puou‘s jumper but the highlight was Rosser’s rising dunk and the foul as the freshman brought the UNO faithful at the Merrell Center to its feet. Rosser’s layup with 6:43 remaining made it an 11-point ballgame in favor of New Orleans.
The Privateers shot a sizzling 68.0 percent from the field in the first en route to a 43-29 lead. Two exclamation dunks – one by Rosser and another by Champion – Charles’ 11 points (three triples) and Berzat’s five points, five assists and two steals off the bench highlighted the first.
Plaisance added two steals and Rosser finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. New Orleans dominated in nearly every statistical category – +9 in rebounds, +7 in assists and the perimeter defense did not allow a field goal from three-point range.
The Ders chipped away at their deficit, condensing what was a 17-point Privateer lead to eight at the 14:09 marker.
UNO quickly returned the favor on Puou’s layup and moments later, Harrison’s and-one extended the lead to 13.
Back-to-back triples by Myles Smith cut the Privateers lead to eight but Berzat sank both free throws with 8:19 to go to make it a 10-point game.
A quick 7-0 run with back-to-back and-ones for Champion and Rosser, respectively, added onto the double-digit cushion with 5:58 remaining in round one of the Southland Conference Tournament.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi cut the UNO lead to four with 1:11 to go but Rosser came up huge, following a miss with a layup and the foul, tying his career-high of 17 points.
A late surge by the Islanders threatened but UNO connected on five of its last six free throws with less than a minute to go to advance to take on No. 4 Sam Houston State tomorrow at 5 p.m.