University of New Orleans forward Erik Thomas knew his team needed a lift, so he decided to lift off.
With the momentum beginning to shift away from his team in the second half, the senior found himself ahead of the pack on a fast break with only one defender to beat.
Thomas rose above the McNeese State defender and threw down a vicious dunk that ignited the Privateers (7-12, 3-5 in Southland Conference) and helped guide them to a 76-64 win in the team’s homecoming game at the Lakefront Arena on Saturday night.
“It was a great momentum play for us,” said Thomas, who finished with a team-high 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals. “Our focus has been just playing hard and getting stops defensively, and that’s what got us over the hump at the end.”
UNO coach Mark Slessinger added, “We were trading baskets and we needed an unbelievable stop or an unbelievable energy play, and he gave it to us. … I think it was a fun atmosphere and just a fun night overall.”
After trailing 48-45 with 8:59 left in the game, UNO put together a 12-1 run— which included Thomas’ dunk — that gave the team confidence late in the game and a 57-49 lead.
Unforced errors plagued the Privateers for large portions of Saturday’s game, with the team already having 17 turnovers with nine minutes left in the second half, but UNO tightened things up down the stretch to put away the Cowboys (5-13, 3-5).
UNO went without a turnover over the final nine minutes of the game and outscored McNeese 31-16, and UNO coach Mark Slessinger said it all started with his players taking ownership of their mistakes.
“We just weren’t being aggressive or attacking the way we can as a team,” Slessinger said. “The guys owned it in a timeout, and they made the changes we asked them to, and that was really exciting to see that from them when we needed it.”
Despite shooting only 34 percent from the field and turning the ball over 11 times, UNO was able to control most of the first half with its rebounding and ability to push the pace.
The Privateers used a 14-2 run midway through the half to grab a 23-12 lead, but were able to make only three field goals over the final 9:37 of the half.
The Cowboys were unable to take advantage of UNO’s struggles on the offensive end, though, only shooting 31 percent from the field.
UNO center Travin Thibodeaux’s 10-rebound performance in the first half — his second game of the season with double-digit rebounds — helped UNO maintain control of the game and go into halftime leading 29-27
Thibodeaux ended the game with eight points and a career-high 13 rebounds, while Kevin Hill added 15 points and six rebounds off the bench.
“I started off slow tonight, but Erik and (Thibodeaux) did a great job carrying the load for us,” said Hill. “Later in the second half, I was able to get free and start making the shots I usually make and help us get the win.”
McNeese State 77, UNO 74: The UNO women’s basketball team (6-12, 3-6) got a career high 39 points from sophomore guard Randi Brown but went cold late in a 77-74 overtime loss to McNeese.
Brown is the eighth Lady Privateer in school history to reach 39 points or more in a game and the first since La’Della English’s 41-point outburst in 2007.
Jayln Johnson led the Cowgirls (14-7, 6-3) with 30 points and seven assists.