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New Orleans, McNeese advance to open Southland Tournament

The opening day at the Southland Tournament may have featured four teams with losing records, but fans at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas were treated to two exciting games. In the end, the New Orleans Privateers and McNeese Cowboys won to advance to Thursday's second round.

Mark Slessinger's Privateers advance to day two at the Southland Tournament in Katy, TX
Mark Slessinger's Privateers advance to day two at the Southland Tournament in Katy, TX
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

#7 New Orleans 82, #6 Nicholls 73

Senior Kevin Brown poured in 24 points while freshman Travin Thibodeaux scored 15, both career-highs, as New Orleans eliminated Nicholls 82-73. The game was the first Southland Tournament appearance and the first post-season competition of any kind for the Privateers since 2010. Their last post-season win came in 2008.

Nicholls set the pace early, leading 42-39 at the break. The Colonels trapping defense, which gave New Orleans fits in two regular season wins for Nicholls, forced six turnovers. Nicholls also got an unusually strong shooting performance, making 8-of-10 first half three points shots. Luka Kamber made 4-of-5 from deep while Amin Torres made all three of his attempts on the way to 13 first half points. The Colonels were a Southland-worst 31% shooting team from beyond the arc this season.

Late into the first half and throughout the second things changed as the Privateers guards started handling the pressure. It created lots of openings for Thibodeaux underneath who made all six of his field goal tries, including many dunks. New Orleans also committed just two second half turnovers, none by guards. Tevin Broyles ended with 13 points and five assists, while Nate Frye added 14 and two. Kevin Hill posted a double-double scoring 10 points with 10 boards, two assists, and a block.

Kevin Brown was the story, though. A contributing member of last season’s NCAA Tournament Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns team, the graduate transfer made all five second half field goal tries, including three triples. He added three steals, all while battling an ankle injury suffered mid-way through the half. His 24 points came in a total of 24 minutes played.

Torres and Kamber paced Nicholls with 17 and 16 points, both off of the bench. Sam McBeath scored 12 points while grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. The Colonels committed 21 turnovers.

New Orleans advances to face the #3 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders on Thursday, with a spot in the semifinals on the line. The Islanders swept two very competitive games with the Privateers this season winning 71-67 in overtime in New Orleans, and 55-53 in Corpus Christi.

#5 McNeese 62, #8 Southeastern Louisiana 60 (OT)

The Southland Tournament kicked off with quite a battle as McNeese outlasted a game effort from short-handed Southeastern Louisiana, winning 62-60 in overtime.

The Cowboys came out of the blocks strong, leading for much of the first half. Keelan Williams splashed his first three three-point attempts while SLU missed eight of their first 11 from the floor during that same time period. Southeastern’s Cedrick Jenkins got going, though. The senior scored 19 in the first half alone, to bring the Lions to a 27-27 tie with McNeese at the half.

Early in the second, Southeastern seemed to take control. Jenkins got help from Onochi Ochie and Devonte Upson and the Lions built their lead to nine at 44-35 with 11:45 to play. At the nine minute mark things really got fun as McNeese’s Shaun Johnson, their best three point shooter, nailed his first three of the game. That was immediately answered by Southeastern’s Daniel Grieves. Johnson then nailed another three and at the under-eight timeout SLU led 48-44. Out of the timeout, McNeese got a steal and found Johnson for his third straight made three. After a Southeastern timeout, Grieves nailed another three of his own. At the end of the two-man duel between Johnson and Grieves, Southeastern led 51-47 with 6:55 to play.

That is when the lack of depth really seemed to take over for Southeastern. The Lions played just six guys, dressing only eight. The shooting faltered, specifically for Jenkins who scored just five in the second half after 19 in the first. The Lions also dominated the glass for much of the game, but McNeese was able to grab a few keys rebounds down the stretch including one possession where two offensive rebounds eventually led to a Lance Potier layup that tied the game at 55 with 2:30 to play. Despite scuffling down the stretch, Southeastern had the ball holding for the final shot, but they fumbled it away. It looked as though a fast break in the final seconds would doom the Lions, but the Lions had a foul to give and Grieves made a heady play fouling on the floor. McNeese inbounded to Johnson but his shot was blocked by Dylon Maggio and the game headed to overtime.

A four and a half minute scoring drought from both teams through the end of regulation and start of overtime was snapped with a free throw and basket by Jenkins, giving the Lions a three point lead. After more offensive rebounds for McNeese an Austin Lewis dunk cut it back to one, but Jimmie Duplessis made his only field goal of the game and SLU led 60-57 with 1:56 to play. That’s when Keelan Garrett, who had missed 11 straight three point tries after making his first three early, nailed a game-tying three then scored the go-ahead layup after a McNeese steal. Southeastern had three chances in the final 25 seconds, but Duplessis and Jenkins both missed go-ahead threes then Jenkins’ final attempt at a game-tying layup was swatted away by Lewis at the buzzer.

Garrett’s 14 points led McNeese while Johnson, Desharick Guidry, and Kevin Hardy all added 11. Lewis scored seven with 10 rebounds and six blocked shots. Jenkins finished with 24 for Southeastern. Ochie added 12 while Upson scored 10.

McNeese advances to face the #4 seed Northwestern State Demons on Thursday, with a spot in the other semifinals up for grabs. The Demons swept a pair from McNeese this season winning by 26 at home in Natchitoches, while squeezing out a three point win in Lake Charles.