The UNO men’s basketball team played well against the top team in the Southland Conference for most of Saturday’s game, but the ending was all too familiar.
The Privateers (5-10, 1-3 Southland Conference) faltered down the stretch and fell to Houston Baptist 73-69 in an SLC tilt at UNO Lakefront Arena.
It was UNO’s third straight loss in conference play by four points or less and fourth of the season total.
“We can cut it up a bunch of ways, but at the end, we’ve got to make shots,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “I think we’re guarding at a very high rate, but you’re getting to the point where you have to pitch a perfect game defensively when you’re shooting at this low a rate.”
After being held to three points in the first half, Houston Baptist guard Anthony Odunsi — the fifth-leading scorer in the SLC at 16 points per game — came out with an elevated level of aggression to begin the second half.
The senior poured in 11 points in the first four and a half minutes of the second half, and his three-point play with 15:32 left gave the Huskies their largest lead of the game at 44-37.
But from that point, UNO held Houston Baptist without a field goal for nearly a six-minute stretch and went up 52-48 with 9:30 left in the game following a layup by Erik Thomas.
The teams went back-and-forth in the end, but the Privateers went 8-for-15 at the free-throw line in the second half and 16-for-28 for the game, which was the major difference in the end.
Odunsi ended with a game-high 28 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, and nearly made as many free throws (15) as the Privateers made as a team.
“Anytime we need a clutch basket, we know we’re going to (Odunsi),” Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell said. “We really count on him late in games to control the pace, and he did a really good job taking what the defense gave him tonight.”
Along with close losses in the end, another consistent trend for the Privateers during their three-game losing streak has been the struggles of starting guards Nate Frye and Christavious Gill on the offensive end.
The duo has only made 14 of their 58 shots over the past three games and were a combined 1-of-16 from the field with five minutes remaining in the game before Gill made four of his final five shots to end the game.
Gill finished with a team-high 15 points and four rebounds, while Frye had five points.
Thomas and Cameron Reed were the only other Privateers in double digits, scoring 10 apiece.
“They have to take shots in rhythm and when they’re open and attacking,” said Slessinger. “I think we’ve just got to be better at taking the next pass so we can get to where we need to go.”