NATCHITOCHES – It has been nearly a month since the Northwestern State men’s basketball team has played a game inside Prather Coliseum.
After a 25-day absence from their arena, the Demons return home to face Incarnate Word at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in NSU’s Southland Conference home opener and the visiting Cardinals’ first SLC tilt.
“I think if the ball’s thrown up here in Natchitoches, you should be able to get motivated,” said 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy, whose team has played six straight games away from Natchitoches since a 77-44 win against Champion Christian on Dec. 12, 2020. “We look forward to seeing our fans here. It’s nice to be in town, not get on a bus and do the things we did for many, many days. We’re happy to be playing basketball and encouraging people in town to come out and see us play.”
Wednesday’s game can be heard on 95.9FM and the Demon Sports Network. Free streaming audio and subscription video are available through www.NSUDemons.com and the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free through the Apple and Google Play stores.
Northwestern State (1-11, 0-1) concluded a six-game road trip with a 99-93 overtime loss at Houston Baptist this past Saturday. Despite the team result, the Demons witnessed the continued improvement of senior Larry Owens, who built on a strong finish to NSU’s five-game-in-six-days pre-Christmas trek with the best offensive game of his career.
Owens hit 8 of 10 shots from the field and connected on all eight of his free throws against HBU, finishing with a career-high 24 points. In his past three games, Owens has averaged 14.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, upping his season averages to 5.5 and 3.4, respectively.
“One simple word, confidence,” McConathy said about Owens’ surge, which began with a 10-point outing at No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 22. “Just unbelievable confidence in his play. The beautiful thing to me is he moved it from before Christmas to now. The other night, one of the highlights was a pass from Jamaure Gregg to Larry Owens. That’s teamwork, and we have to have it.”
UIW (3-4, 0-0) played three games from Dec. 29-Jan. 1 after not playing since Dec. 5. The Cardinals defeated McMurry twice after dropping the first game in that span to then-No. 13 Texas Tech.
UIW features the Southland Conference’s leading scorer in sophomore guard Keaston Willis, who averages 21 points per game. It won’t be only Willis, however, who will put pressure on the Demon defense.
“It’s a tough matchup,” McConathy said. “They play four guards around one post guy, which makes a lot of difference in guarding people. That’s the thing about league play a lot of people don’t understand.”
Compared to the Demons’ non-conference schedule, which included three games against ranked teams and three against Power Five conference competition, the Southland Conference season should bring about more common matchups, especially for NSU’s guards.
“The size of the guards you face is more like that of your team,” McConathy said. “You’re not facing 6-4 guards like (Gonzaga’s) Jalen Suggs. That makes for a tough matchup for CJ (Jones) or Brian (White).
“We need those guys. They give us a two-headed monster, because they’re two different types of guards. Both have the capability to lead the team. CJ had a huge game in the (Southland) tournament last year against (Texas A&M-) Corpus Christi. Brian has had some big moments in big games for us.”