After faltering from the free-throw line late, the UNO men’s basketball team turned to its “little guy” to make the biggest play of the game.
The Privateers missed six consecutive free throws in the final 90 seconds and allowed Lamar to get within two points, but freshman guard Christavious Gill — checking in at 5-foot-8 — came up with a huge steal and made three of four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Gill’s late-game heroics helped UNO defeat Lamar 72-67 in the Privateers’ Southland Conference opener Monday night at Lakefront Arena, snapping the Cardinals’ five-game winning streak.
“I denied their point guard, and he gave the ball up,” Gill said. “When he crossed half-court, I saw Nate Frye pressuring him, so I knew he would cross over to the left hand and I just took it.”
Gill finished tied for the team high with 14 points on 3-of-8 shooting for the Privateers (5-5, 1-0). He added three assists and two steals.
“The little guy just makes plays,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “He just comes up with plays. We have to have him on the court, because he’s going to get a loose ball and he’s going to make that extra-effort play.”
Lamar (7-7, 0-1) came out roaring to start the second half, nailing nine of its first 13 shots, and guard Anthony Holliday led the charge. After going scoreless in the first half, the senior poured in 11 points in the first seven minutes of the second, and his back-to-back reverse layups gave Lamar a 39-35 lead with 13:25 left.
After falling behind for the first time since Lamar scored the first points of the game, UNO reclaimed the lead with a 10-2 run, capped with a putback layup by guard Tevin Broyles to give the Privateers a 45-41 lead.
“We were too passive with the ball,” Slessinger said. “They did multiple presses, and we had a lot of transition turnovers. They were uncharacteristic for us, and I think the guys just got a little over-excited.”
The Privateers weren’t able to get out of their own way in the first seven minutes of the game, turning the ball over six times and missing seven of their first nine shots. Despite the turnovers, UNO maintained the lead by forcing the Cardinals into taking tough shots and holding them to 28 percent shooting from the field in the first half.
Once UNO started to cut down on turnovers, it was able to take control with a 9-2 run capped by a layup from forward Kevin Hill that made the score 16-9 with eight minutes left in the half.
“Having the conference game at home … I think it was just nerves,” said Hill, who finished with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. “As the game continued to go on, I think we all just settled down and, once everyone calmed down, I think that helped.”
After Cardinals guard Quan Jones made a layup to cut the Privateers’ lead to 25-18, UNO guard Nate Frye nailed a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to extend UNO’s lead to 28-18 going into halftime.
UNO guard Kevin Brown returned to the lineup for the Privateers after missing the previous three games with a knee injury. Brown finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting, but his 3-pointer in front of the UNO bench provided a momentum swing with five minutes left, giving the Privateers a 52-48 lead.
“He struggled offensively, but he’s got such composure that I didn’t hesitate to have him on the floor at the end,” Slessinger said. “He’s still not 100 percent, full-strength back from his knee yet, but he’s a guy that I would pick to have out there any day. He made one that we really needed when it counted.”
Tyran de Lattibeaudiere led Lamar with 17 points.