- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

KATY, Texas (AP) - Now that New Orleans is going to the NCAA Tournament this week, Erik Thomas was thinking about what that will mean to the Privateers decades down the road.

Tevin Broyles had 15 points, including five in overtime, and New Orleans held off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 68-65 on Saturday night to win the Southland Conference championship game and advance to its first NCAA Tournament since 1996.

Thomas had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Christavious Gill and Michael Zeno scored 10 apiece for New Orleans (20-11), which earned its fifth trip to the NCAAs and won 20 games in a season for the first time since 1996-97.

“It’s a blessing,” said Thomas, the tournament MVP. “We played so tough and wanted it so bad. It’s a big story for us to tell 10, 20 years from now that we can tell our family that we went dancing. We went to the NCAA Tournament. Not many people can say that.”

The Privateers shot 42 percent and won despite going 15 of 27 from the free throw line. They trailed by seven at halftime.

“We all came in (the locker room), and we held everyone accountable,” Thomas said. “We said it was time for us to start playing like a championship team. We had to have a better half, come out and play and start to have fun with it. That’s what we did the second half was we felt confident and played hard.”

Rashawn Thomas had 22 points and seven rebounds, Cole Martinez added 15 points and Joseph Kilgore scored 13 for Corpus Christi (20-11), still looking for its second NCAA Tournament appearance after losing in the Southland final for the second straight season. The Islanders shot 47 percent from the field and hit 15 of 19 free throws.

Rashawn Thomas missed a 3-pointer with six seconds left, and Kareem South missed the putback. The teams fought for the ball, which went out of bounds to New Orleans with less than a second left, sealing the win for the Privateers.

“We had two options with Rashawn, and if he didn’t have a good look, we felt like Cole would be open,” Corpus Christi coach Willis Wilson said. “That’s the play we had drawn up, and I felt like we were in position to make the play. It didn’t happen for us.”

With Corpus Christi trailing by three, Rashawn Thomas connected on a free throw with a minute left. Gill missed a long three-pointer, but Nate Frye grabbed the rebound with 34 seconds remaining.

Broyles was fouled and hit one of two foul shots with 25 seconds to go, increasing the lead to 68-65.

Martinez missed a fall-away 3 from the left wing with five seconds left in regulation, and Maker Puou grabbed the rebound and called timeout for New Orleans with a second left. However, the Privateers couldn’t get a shot off, sending the game to overtime.

New Orleans used an 18-5 run to take a 46-42 lead on Travin Thibodeaux’s dunk with 9:22 remaining. Corpus Christi regained the lead at 52-51 on two free throws by South with five minutes remaining.

“We talked that we needed to be us,” New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger said. “Not making a couple shots wasn’t going to shake us. . We had to keep playing through it.”

The Islanders led 33-26 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M-CC: The Islanders struggled to get points down low, with Rashawn Thomas being the only threat in the paint. Corpus Christi had to do better on the offensive glass after grabbing just five offensive rebounds. The Islanders forced New Orleans into 14 turnovers and turned them into 20 points, but also committed 15 turnovers of their own.

New Orleans: The Privateers could not get their outside shots to fall, missing their first eight 3s. They finished 3 of 15 from behind the arc. New Orleans outrebounded Corpus Christi 40-25, which led to a 21-2 advantage in second-chance points. New Orleans had a 40-18 edge in the paint.

CLOSE ONE

There were 14 lead changes and 11 ties, and neither team had more than a four-point lead over the final seven minutes of the second half and overtime. It also was the first overtime championship game in the Southland Conference since 2003, when Sam Houston State beat Stephen F. Austin 69-66.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Erik Thomas was joined on the all-tournament team by Gill, Martinez, Rashawn Thomas and Stephen F. Austin’s Leon Gilmore III.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M-CC: Hoping for an invite to a smaller postseason tournament.

New Orleans: NCAA Tournament pairings will be announced Sunday.

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