The University of New Orleans men’s basketball team came into Monday night’s contest with three consecutive double-digit wins and had an opportunity to build its confidence even more with the second best team in the Southland Conference coming to town.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (19-6, 10-3) utilized its stifling defense to spoil those plans and handed the Privateers a 65-57 loss in a Southland Conference game at the UNO Lakefront Arena.
“The turnovers killed us tonight, especially in the first half” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “I think we over-passed it and tried to force it in … It’s a missed opportunity and it’s very disappointing.”
The Islanders came into Monday’s game ranked as the top-ranked team in the conference for steals per game, blocks per game and defensive field goal percentage. While UNO (8-15, 4-8) kept things close for most of the night, the Islanders came up with big defensive stops to keep the Privateers at bay every time they needed it.
UNO surrendered a season-high 14 steals and turned the ball over 22 times (tied for a season high) to Corpus Christi on the night, which played a major part in UNO’s inability to chip away at the Islanders’ lead.
The Privateers got their deficit down to 59-52 with 4:13 left in the game, but were unable to score another field goal until Erik Thomas’ buzzer-beating layup to finish the game.
Ehab Amin led the Islanders with 15 points and six rebounds on the night.
“We try to make sure that we are always the most active team on the court,” said Islanders coach Willis Wilson. “Our guys did a good job fighting in those loose-ball and open-court situations, which helped us get some of those easy baskets we needed in the end.
Islanders forward Rashawn Thomas, who had 24 points in the Islanders 97-76 win over the Privateers on Jan. 23, was held to four points in the first half and the Islanders struggled to replace his scoring, but they still were able to grab a 24-20 lead with 8:23 left in the first half.
Unable to lean on its leading scorer, the Islanders utilized its defense to seize control of the game and held UNO to six points over the final eight minutes as the Corpus Christi lead ballooned up to 36-26 once the teams went into halftime.
Michael Zeno led UNO with 12 points and seven rebounds on the night.
“We just weren’t consistent enough in what we were doing on offense,” said Slessinger.
After Monday’s contest, UNO will play its next four games on the road and won’t return home until they face Southeastern Louisiana on Mar. 3.
The Privateers haven’t won a game on the road since opening conference play with a victory at Lamar and Slessinger said the key for his team to turn things around is remaining together as a team and playing more consistently on the defensive end.
“It’s a huge stretch and it has huge (Southland) Tournament implications,” he said. “We’ve got to play a high level and win on the road in order to make a run into this tournament on a good note.”