UNO, Slessinger provide stability on shaken state basketball scene

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Troy GreenA good season came to an end for UNO Wednesday night but it does not dampen what is a solid program.

Texas Southern defeated the Privateers, 95-89, in overtime at Lakefront Arena in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) opening round.

The Privateers struggled to deal with the quickness of Texas Southern, who shot well, whipped UNO on the boards and dominated in the paint offensively in the first half.

UNO varied defenses and rallied in the second half with a spirited effort and even took the lead with 5:23 to play and led 81-80 with 27.2 seconds left. The Privateers had the final shot in regulation but could not convert. Texas Southern dominated the overtime period to escape with a hard-earned victory.

Justin Hopkins, a Samford transfer, led the Tigers with 20 points and 10 rebounds while LSU transfer Jeremy Combs finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Bryson Robinson led UNO with 20 points while Jahmel Myers had 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Tigers shot 52 percent from the field to just 40 percent for UNO. Texas Southern employed a zone defense all night and UNO could not hit from distance, making just 7 of 33 (21 percent) from beyond the arc.

The ability of Texas Southern to get to the rim was decisive as well it resulted in the Tigers attempting 42 free throws to just 19 for the Privateers. In many ways, it was amazing that the Privateers had a chance to win this one. To their credit, they refused to go away, hung tough and gave themselves a chance.

Let us keep things in perspective.

Granted, you buy your way into this second-tier postseason event but it kept alive a streak of three consecutive years for UNO participating in a postseason tournament.

Mark Slessinger has done an excellent job under adverse circumstances. The Privateers do it on a shoestring budget with a small, though loyal fan base.

There is a proud history at UNO, established by the likes of Ron Greene, Benny Dees, Tim Floyd and Tic Price. Slessinger has awakened the memories of the “good old days.”

UNO went 12-6 in the Southland Conference and reached the championship game of the league tournament. As I lobbied for two decades ago, the conference is a perfect fit for UNO.

In 2017, the Privateers earned an NCAA Tournament spot for the first time since 1996. In 2018, UNO was in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.

It is significantly easier to sell progress when you reach the postseason with regularity and integrity. Slessinger has established that.

It was an interesting night at Lakefront Arena, where I spent numerous nights calling games for the Privateers between 1982 and 2006. Seeing familiar faces warmed the heart. It will always feel like home.

While LSU is without its coach and is likely going to be searching for a new coach, its former coach – Johnny Jones – was back at Lakefront Arena on the opposing bench, coaching a team with 13 transfers to victory, including two from LSU, over a team less than 80 miles from what used to be home for him.

Meanwhile, the fortunes of Jones’ alma mater and former employer have shifted seismically in a matter of two weeks, miles from the euphoria of a superb team with a great future while the fortunes of UNO remain promising with 10 players returning from a 14-man roster.

Jones spent many nights at Lakefront Arena as the head coach at North Texas when the Mean Green were in the Sun Belt Conference with UNO.

Not surprisingly, Dale Brown was in the house at Lakefront Arena watching his former player and protégé, as he frequently was when Jones coached at North Texas. It was Brown who lobbied hard for LSU to hire Jones.

While Jones failed in decisive fashion at his alma mater, he is in good stead at his new job and he had no scandals at LSU.

While Will Wade was succeeding decisively at LSU, he is in bad shape at his job and the smell and feel of scandal has engulfed the program. The fortunes and misfortunes of life never cease to amaze me. Stick around long enough. The worm will turn eventually, sometimes 180 degrees.

Let’s summarize things.

Jones coached many games at Lakefront Arena against UNO. He returned to do so Wednesday night against a school that once bore the name LSUNO. He went on to coach at LSU and did not depart on his own terms. Brown still loves Jones and supports him. Brown still loves LSU. I wonder what is on his mind right about now regarding the state of LSU basketball? Brown helped open Lakefront Arena in 1983 against the Privateers.

Meanwhile, UNO marches on while Tulane searches for a new head coach and LSU is likely to be doing the same shortly.

In his eighth season, Slessinger is the one with the stable program. Who would have thought that just a few short years ago when UNO was on the doorstep of being a Division III or Division II program? He has become a College Basketball Insider, if you will pardon the pun.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Owner/CEO

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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