Mark Slessinger

University of New Orleans coach Matt Slessinger

It was cold in New Orleans on Wednesday night. Central Arkansas made sure it was that way inside Lakefront Arena.

Holding UNO to 24.2 percent shooting in the first half, the Bears took a commanding 17-point halftime lead on their way to an 81-57 Southland Conference victory.

“We were poor in every aspect,” Privateers coach Mark Slessinger said after his team dropped its first game after gaining first place in the conference. “It's very frustrating and disappointing that we let an incredible opportunity slip past us.

“They were good defensively agesainst us. We didn't excecute and play to the level we needed to on both sides of the floor.”

UNO (8-10, 5-2) saw its six-game home winning streak end as well as a three-game home streak against Central Arkansas (10-10, 4-3). Nicholls State (6-1, SLU) took over first place, with Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State all at 5-1 and in second place.

With 7-foot center Hayden Koval blocking five shots and altering others, the Bears played up in the passing lanes on the perimeter, pressured the ball and got 10 steals among 17 UNO turnovers. Central Arkansas had a 21-6 fast-break advantage, scored 19 points off turnovers and scored 41 points in the lane to 28 by the Privateers, a team that works the ball inside and back door for layups.

“I thought our defense was really good,” Bears coach Russ Pennell said. “I thought they had trouble moving the ball. And, when you play New Orleans, they're such as physical team, if you let them catch the ball on the block, you're in trouble.

“I thought we did a good job of denying (passes), and that kind of got us going. We were fortunate to get the tempo like we wanted it.”

Jordan Howard, the Sun Belt's career-leading 3-point shooter, led the Bears with 24 points, and guard Mathieu Kamba scored 23, including 9-of-10 free-throw shooting. Power forward Travin Thibodeaux, who'd scored at least 20 points in his past two games, led the Privateers with 18.

Central Arkansas raced to a 40-23 halftime lead by holding UNO to 24.2 percent shooting (8-of-33). The Bears had a 15-2 advantage in fast-break points, the key reason the Bears shot 50 percent (15-30), which they duplicated in the second half. Central Arkansas swiped six steals, as UNO turned the ball over 10 times in the half, leading to 11 Central Arkansas points.

Central Arkansas took over five minutes into the game behind a 2 ½-minute spree by Howard. With the Bears leading 12-6 at 14:58 of the first half, he went on a 10-0 burst – two free throws, a 3-pointer on the break, a layup on the break and a corner 3 on the break. Just like that, Central Arkansas led 22-6 with 12:28 showing.

Three minutes into the second half, the lead was 47-27. UNO came to 17-points of the lead, 52-35 at 13:34, but the Bears went on a quick burst to led 59-38 at the 11-minute mark.

“This is a big road win for us,” Pennell said. “It gets us back in the race. We were coming off a tough (86-79) loss at Nicholls State, so this is big for us.”