There are many times in your life where you know exactly what is headed your way. You get a paycheck then you pay some bills. You get a paycheck then you hit your favorite restaurant. It’s the norm, the everyday; it makes our world go round. But then there are some things you never see coming — the fender bender, the should-be-illegal traffic ticket taken by a camera, the five pound bag of Mardi Gras beads to your head as you’re looking at your phone. And, for some — no, actually everyone — the University of New Orleans Privateers’ chase of the Southland conference basketball title.
That’s right. There is some good college basketball being played in the Crescent City. You just won’t catch it in Uptown, you have to go to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
In his sixth season as the head coach, Mark Slessinger has assembled a veteran roster and has secured the school’s first winning season since 2012. But when you’re this close to winning the school’s first regular season conference title since 1997 the goals and dreams crank up a notch or two. Not bad for a school picked to finish 10th in the conference. But that’s all in the future and for the history books, the “now” was the Privateers having to take care of business versus the tough Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (15-12) last night in Lakefront Arena. A victory would give the Privateers (17-9) a two-game lead with three to go. A loss would drop them into second place behind Stephen F. Austin via a head-to-head tiebreaker.
There have been plenty of teams that have made surprising runs only to fold when the pressure started cooking. The Privateers had already lost to Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State, the preseason pick to win the title, earlier in the year. But as the cliché goes, freshmen aren’t freshmen at this time of the year. So, I guess the same could be said as a whole for the team that was picked to finish 10th. UNO entered Lakefront Arena on a mission to prove to themselves, their fans and the league that they were the new kings of the court.
Stephen F. Austin never had a chance.
The Privateers put together their best game of the year and whipped the Lumberjacks 82-65. UNO jumped out 12-4 on the Lumberjacks and never looked back, defeating the team that has won four straight conference titles and three straight tournament titles with ease.
UNO built the lead to 20 points heading into the locker room and extended their lead to 32 points, 57-25, early in the second half in an absolute demolition of the Lumberjacks. Erik Thomas, who has gone from not appearing on any pre-season conference team to being the most dominant player in the Southland led the scoring, along with Nate Frye, at 18 points.
UNO is now in the driver’s seat. The Privateers finish the season playing three teams inhabiting the lower echelon of the conference. Tomorrow, New Orleans travels up to Natchitoches to play the last place Northwestern State. Then the men of the lake finish the regular season next week versus Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State — teams the Privateers have already vanquished this season.
With the loss, the Lumberjacks fall into a tie for second place with A&M-Corpus Christi but own the tiebreaker. The top two finishers in the league get a double bye into the semifinals of the Southland conference tournament.
Your last chance to see the Privateers at Lakefront Arena is this Thursday, March 2. The Southland Conference tournament is March 8-12 in Katy, Texas. The victor receives an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
March Madness, anyone?
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Wiseacre Brewing’s “Avast!” Pirate Porter
Playlist Recommendation: Earl King – “Street Parade”
Around the Way
It’s been nothing but fun since Blake Dean took over the UNO Privateers last season. The baseball team outperformed all expectations last year, finishing 31-26. So what do you do for an encore? Start the season 4-0? Check. Beat the #5 LSU Tigers? WHAT! That’s correct. The Privateers made a lot of eyebrows, and possibly one unibrow, rise up and take notice Tuesday night with a wild 11-8 victory over LSU.
The Privateers seem to love a shootout. Their big bats pile up runs while their pitching can give them right back, and this game was no different. It seemed like LSU was going to run away with a mid-week victory, after the Tigers hit their third home run to take a 6-1 lead in the fifth inning against a seemingly overmatched Privateers ball club.
Then all hell broke loose.
Actually it was normal. If normal is the Privateers putting up 10 runs in the next two innings via some triples, a lot of doubles and surprisingly only one home run. Before the two-inning Tiger nightmare ended the Privateers had scored ten unanswered runs to take an 11-6 lead into the top of the seventh. The Privateers gave up two runs after that but held on for their biggest win under Dean. #GeauxUNO!