Southland First Round: Nicholls, Oral Roberts Advance

Dantrell Thomas scored 27 as Nicholls won in the SLC Tourney for the first time since 2009. - Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The seeds held to form on the first night of the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, Texas as #5 Nicholls and #6 Oral Roberts both advanced into the second round.

#5 Nicholls 71, #8 Southeastern LA 64

Dantrell Thomas scored 27 points as the number five seed Nicholls Colonels defeated the number eight seed Southeastern Louisiana Lions 71-64 in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, Texas.

The game went back and forth for the first 28 minutes, before an 8-0 run gave Nicholls a 51-43 lead with just over nine minutes to play. The Colonels never trailed again.

The two halves of this game really told the tale for both team's best duos.

In the first half, Southeastern's best two players led the charge. JaMichael Hawkins scored nine points, including eight consecutively to erase an early 14-6 Nicholls lead. Dre Evans scored 12. For Nicholls, Dantrell Thomas scored 12, but Jeremy Smith was held scoreless after playing just five minutes due to foul trouble.

In the second half, Hawkins was held scoreless in 14 minutes while Evans had just three points in his 16 minutes for Southeastern. For Nicholls, Thomas added 15 more points and while Smith only scored four points, he played ten minutes and grabbed five rebounds.

Southeastern's Antonnio Benton scored 10 points with nine rebounds. Nicholls' T.J. Carpenter scored 13 while Liam Thomas had 12 rebounds and scored five points.

With the win, Nicholls advances to the second round of the Southland Conference Tournament where they will face the number four seed Northwestern St. Demons.

#6 Oral Roberts 66, #7 McNeese 62

Oral Roberts never trailed, but had to sweat out a furious McNeese State rally before the number six seed Golden Eagles eliminated the number seven seed Cowboys 66-62 in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, Texas.

After leading by as many as 15 in the second half, you never would have thought ORU would need big plays down the stretch to win but after a three pointer by McNeese's Shaun Johnson cut the lead to three with 3:02 to play the Golden Eagles got three of them. On the ensuing possession, the Cowboys forced a held ball late in the shot clock, but the possession arrow favored ORU. After the inbound, D.J. Jackson nailed a three to stretch the Golden Eagles' lead back to six with 2:22 to play.

After a Ledrick Eackles three pointer cut the ORU lead back down to three with 1:22 left, Shawn Glover made a running baby hook shot in the lane late in the next shot clock to stretch the lead back to five with just under a minute to play.

With 48 seconds to play ORU's lead was four and they were heading to the free throw line. Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that was rebounded by McNeese, but the outlet pass was stolen by Korey Billbury. After the next pair of free throws the lead by six, and ORU held on for the win.

This game was a microcosm of McNeese's season. They were a talented group who could occasionally score in major bursts, but for the game they shot just 28% from the floor. They were dead last in the Southland in field goal percentage, and the only one out of 14 teams to be under 40% for the season.

Billbury led the way for Oral Roberts scoring 18 points with 12 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Glover, the Southland's second leading scorer, scored 17 but shot just 8-of-21 from the floor and didn't attempt a single free throw.

In his final collegiate game, the Southland's fifth leading scorer Ledrick Eackles scored 28 points for McNeese. He shot just 6-of-21 from the floor. Kevin Hardy scored eight points with six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.

With the win, Oral Roberts' brief stay in the Southland Conference will last at least one more night. The Golden Eagles face the number three seed Sam Houston St. Bearkats in the second round. This will be a rematch from last year's Southland Tournament, when #6 SHSU knocked off #3 ORU.

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