NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State was in a zone early against Houston Baptist, shooting better than the Demons had all season long.
But the visiting Huskies went to a zone, packing personnel inside to slow down NSU. That smothering defense allowed HBU to pull away for a 77-70 Southland Conference basketball win Wednesday night at Prather Coliseum.
The Demons hit 11 of their first 15 shots as they built a double-digit advantage out of the gate. But in an ominous sign, only four of their 20 first-half baskets came from outside 10 feet as they cooled off slightly, to 54 percent while taking a 43-39 lead on Ishmael Lane’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
After getting 16 buckets inside and leading for all but two minutes of the first half, NSU struggled to deal with HBU’s stranglehold inside, scoring only six times around the basket in the final 20 minutes. A seven-minute drought down the stretch doomed the Demons, who missed six straight shots and committed three turnovers as the Huskies mounted an 11-2 run that put them in charge, up by 71-62 with under three minutes remaining.
“That spell where we didn’t score a field goal, seven minutes, was pretty detrimental,” said 19th-year NSU head coach Mike McConathy. “We had a hard time getting it in there after they went to the zone. It seemed the whole second half, we could never get the ball where we needed it to get it to Ish or Larry Owens inside. We became pretty ineffective.”
Lane and Owens scored a combined 21 in the first half, only 10 afterward. Lane, a 6-foot-8 junior center, finished with his eighth double-double of the season, 14th in his career, scoring 21 and snatching 11 rebounds, but after his short jumper with 9:28 left tied it at 60, he was able to add only two free throws and a rebound the rest of the way.
Owens and fellow freshman Czar Perry each scored 10 points. In his fifth game back after an 11-week absence, Perry posted season highs of five assists and three steals. The Demons’ lone senior, swingman Iziahiah Sweeney, drained a pair of late 3-pointers to keep NSU within two possessions in the closing two minutes as he scored 14 points, handed out a career-best five assists and made three steals.
NSU, losing its 17th consecutive game with the fifth-youngest roster in the country, fell to 3-22 overall, 0-14 in the Southland. HBU (6-21, 2-11) snapped a six-game skid as conference Freshman of the Year candidate David Caraher scored a game-high 23 points and snagged nine rebounds.
“Our effort was great tonight, so much better than it was last Saturday,” said McConathy. “We did a great job early, jumped on them, but they stayed the course and got back in the game. Ten turnovers in the second half, some of them at real crucial times, helped do us in. Twice after making steals, we didn’t convert baskets in transition and that was costly.”
So were two makes by Lane being the only free throws converted by the Demons in 10 shots at the line. Coupled with a 6-for-16 outing last Saturday, NSU is 8-of-26 on free throws in its last 80 minutes after making 69 percent (31-45) in the previous two games, and 63 percent (115-184) in the prior eight contests.
Houston Baptist won despite being outshot overall (49-43 percent) and on 3-pointers (42-35 percent). The Huskies were also poor at the free throw line (48 percent, 11-23) but beat NSU on the boards 40-36, including a 22-14 advantage after halftime, and made just 11 turnovers to the hosts’ 17, suffering only four in the second half.
“People wonder how can you handle this, and there’s only one way. We come to work every day and try to get better, and we were better tonight than we were Saturday,” said McConathy. “We’ll be back at it in 7:45 in the morning and we have six days to be much better before we play again.”
The Demons have Saturday off, then go to San Antonio next Wednesday to visit the other winless team in Southland play, Incarnate Word.