NATCHITOCHES – Shots behind the arc put, and kept, Northwestern State behind the eight-ball again Saturday afternoon.
For the second straight game, the Demons were anemic on 3-pointers while a formidable opponent was red hot. League-leading Sam Houston State cashed in Wednesday night at Prather Coliseum, and three days later, defending champion Southeastern Louisiana was hotter than the chili fans enjoyed between games of the Southland Conference basketball doubleheader.
The Lions nailed 7 of 11 from distance in the first half, banking in a 28-footer at the buzzer for a 14-point advantage, then weathered an early rally by the Demons before stretching it out at the end of the game for a 69-53 road win at NSU.
On the heels of Sam Houston’s 14 of 29 shooting on 3-pointers Wednesday night, NSU was assaulted by 21-of-40 aim behind the arc by the week’s formidable foes before trotting to the locker room at halftime.
Southeastern (8-12, 4-3 in the Southland) won its fourth straight, coupling its hot first-half accuracy on 3-pointers with 18 of 21 precision through the game from the free throw line. Senior guard Marlain Veal dropped in all but one of his eight free throws in a game-best 21-point afternoon, while Brandon Gonzales nailed half of 10 treys in a 15-point, 9-rebound performance.
Meanwhile, NSU (7-13, 2-5) sank just 5 of 24 on 3-pointers Saturday following a 3 for 28 outing Wednesday. That gave the Lions free reign to pack defenders around Demon stalwart Ishmael Lane, who had a 19-point, 19-rebound night against SHSU but was limited to 11 points (4 of 10 aim) while snagging 13 rebounds Saturday.
“Ish was getting hammered,” said 20th-year NSU coach Mike McConathy. “They’re mashing in on him, and he’s not getting any relief, because the guys on the perimeter are not making shots. The most difficult shot is a wide open 3, because there’s usually a reason you’re left wide open: the other team doesn’t think you can make it.”
Lane was credited with seven turnovers, more than half attributed by McConathy to the physical play near the basket instead of miscues by his preseason first-team All-Southland standout. The senior forward/center had his third straight double-double, and the 20th of his career, while he climbed to eighth on the school career rebounding list (722).
NSU made 13 of its 28 tries inside the 3-point arc. Lane was the only Demon scoring in double digits, although sophomore walk-on guard John Norvel came close with nine points and a season-best six rebounds.
The Demons never led, coming up empty on seven chances to go on top over a 3:48-long stretch in the first half. The Lions closed the final 4:54 before halftime on a 17-5 run fueled by four 3-pointers, two each by Gonzales and Von Julien (10 points, six assists).
NSU opened the second half by closing within 40-35, but true freshman point guard Brian White’s twisting layup didn’t drop to make it a one-possession game and the momentum turned. The Demons missed four straight shots and turned it over twice more while the Lions sandwiched a pair of Moses Greenwood buckets around a trey by Veal to move up 47-35 with 13:15 left, and NSU got no closer than seven afterward.
“We had chances in each half, didn’t convert, and then the wheels came off each time,” said McConathy.
Crippled by inaccurate aim from distance, NSU was fairly even otherwise, he said.
“We’re right there in other aspects. They wound up with a nine-rebound advantage but most of that came at the end of the game when it was decided.
“At times, we had some unbelievable efforts. John Norvel got six rebounds and did some good things on offense. C.J. Jones showed signs of getting back into form, and we really need that. Malik Metoyer, Larry Owens, Darian Dixon all had their good stretches. But we weren’t able to sustain things when we got sparks from guys.
“It’s just a tough time right now, when guys have to claw down a little deeper to get this done. I believe in these kids. I don’t think there’s a lot of difference in our league. We’re 2-5 and I don’t think we’re a bad basketball team.
“We’ve just unfortunately not been able to score when we needed to, and the teams we’ve played for the last three games have done that a lot better than us. That could go the other way.
“I’ve got to give it to (SLU coach) Jay Ladner and his team. They do a remarkable job. Marlain Veal is a tremendous player. Moses Greenwood is a really good player. They have some really good pieces. They’re really methodical and what they do fits the people they have.
“Right now our guys are not stepping up and giving us the same things Southeastern and Sam Houston are getting from their players,” said McConathy.
“I’m disappointed, a little bit discouraged, but we’re going to continue to fight and try to get better.”
NSU is on the road twice next week, going Wednesday to New Orleans and Saturday to Central Arkansas, beginning a crucial stretch in the 18-game league schedule where the Demons play on the road four times in the next five games. The only Prather Coliseum appearance in that span is Feb. 6 for a rematch with UNO.