The University of New Orleans earned its first Southland Conference victory with an 87-81 win Thursday night against Abilene Christian.
Not that it came easy.
The Privateers started fast, leading by as much as nine in the first half, before allowing Abilene Christian to lead midway through the second.
But in the final three minutes, UNO freshman Christavious Gill led a 6-0 run, a testament to timely shots and defensive effort. Gill’s layup with less than four minutes left left gave UNO a 78-76 lead, and was followed by two free throws apiece by Cory Dixon and Kevin Hill — both after collecting rebounds.
“Where we weren’t great a week ago, we fixed that this week through a lot of hard work, through a lot of sacrifice,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “They played very humbling, they played together, they selfish, and I think that was a big piece of it.”
Still, Abilene Christian (6-9, 0-1) proved to be a pesky road opponent. With less than one minute left, Parker Wentz’s steal from Gill led to Harrison Hawkins’ 3-pointer with 25.6 left, trimming the deficit to 83-81.
UNO, though, converted free throws to improve to 4-7 overall and 1-2 in conference.
After road losses last week against Nicholls State and McNeese State, the Privateers won their first conference game since the 2009-10 season in the Sun Belt.
“Rebounding and defense, that’s really the two big keys to winning,” said Tradarrius McPhearson, who led UNO with 19 points.
When McPhearson missed a layup with less than four minutes remaining, he kept enough pressure on Abilene Christian’s Austin Cooke, forcing a turnover at the baseline.
Gill scored a career-high 17 points, his third consecutive double-digit outing.
“It helped my confidence,” Gill said of his performance. “I feel like we can compete with anybody if we play at our highest, if we play with intensity every game.”
Dixon, UNO’s leading scorer this season, finished with 12 points on 2-for-6 shooting. Matt Derenbecker added seven.
Hawkins led Abilene Christian with 19 points, including 13 in the second half. LaDarrien Williams added 15 points with nine rebounds.
The Wildcats were also aiming for their first Southland Conference win of the season, and first in years. They had not played in the conference since the 1972-73 season.
UNO hosts Incarnate Word on Saturday in a doubleheader, starting with the women’s game at 11 a.m. and the men’s tip-off at 1 p.m.
... UNO’s women lost 88-44 to Abilene Christian in Thursday’s early game. Octavia Wilson (14 points) was UNO’s lone double-digit scorer. The Privateers dropped to 0-14 overall and 0-3 in the Southland Conference. Whitney West led Abilene Christian (10-6, 1-0) with 18 points, including 4-for-7 on 3-pointers.