NATCHITOCHES – There will be no encore for Ishmael Lane at Northwestern State, but the Demons’ senior center made his last performance memorable.
Lane flirted with a 20/20 line Saturday afternoon, finishing with 18 points and matching his career rebounding high (19), while delivering three massive blocked shots, completing his Demon days ranking in the school’s all-time top 10 in all three categories.
It wasn’t enough to extend NSU’s season, however. Central Arkansas’ Thatch Unruh pumped in 30 points, 15 on 5-of-6 aim behind the 3-point arc, and the visiting Bears staved off a fierce second-half surge by the Demons to win 70-63.
The victory vaulted UCA (13-18 overall, 8-10 in the Southland Conference) into next week’s Southland Tournament. As it turned out, even an NSU win wouldn’t have advanced the Demons (11-20, 6-12), since Nicholls upset third-place Southeastern Louisiana in another afternoon contest to block NSU’s potential path.
A miserable shooting performance, 30 percent (20-66), handicapped the home team. The Bears bombed away from the outset, hitting 4 of 8 on 3-pointers as the Demons opened shooting 2-of-12 overall and fell behind 18-6 eight minutes into play.
Down 41-21 at halftime, NSU bounced back with its own eight-minute outburst, a 15-0 charge (despite 6-of-18 shooting) that was the first of a pair of preservation runs.
“Out of the gate, we gave up 12 second-chance points and 19 off turnovers. They score 41, there’s 31, and we’re down 20 at the half,” said Mike McConathy, ending his 20th season as the Demons’ coach. “The second half we had two turnovers, and came back within two points but couldn’t score to get over the hump.
“We weren’t able to convert their 12 (second-half) turnovers into enough points to make the difference. That used to be a hallmark of our teams and for whatever reason, we aren’t cashing them in at an acceptable rate now.”
In a fiercely contested final 20 minutes, there were ample plot twists.
The Bears fought back after the Demons closed to 41-36, or rather, Unruh did. He scored 10 straight points in three minutes in a 12-2 tear that lifted UCA back up comfortably, 55-40 with 8:29 remaining.
Northwestern didn’t allow the visitors to stay comfy. The Demons answered by ringing up 15 of the next 17 points in a four-minute span, launched by a pair of 3-pointers from 13-point producer LaTerrance Reed.
A six-foot teardrop in transition from C.J. Jones got NSU within 57-55 and the margin teetered between 2-4 points for the next two-plus minutes. Again, this time decisively, Unruh was the antidote, draining a 3-pointer with 1:48 to go for a 64-57 Bears’ bulge.
The Demons couldn’t close the gap closer than five from there.
Lane’s magnificent finale was complemented by an 11-point outing from fellow four-year senior Malik Metoyer, who was perfect on nine free throws and collected six rebounds. Metoyer entered the season with a 64.6 percent career free throw rate, but sank 87 percent (40-46) in conference games, 83 percent (44-53) overall, both figures leading the team.
“We did an excellent job competing, led by our two four-year seniors, Ish and Malik. Another senior, DeAndre Love, made a couple incredible effort plays to ignite us,” said McConathy. “I was really glad that those guys can walk away knowing they laid their hearts on the floor in their last college game and gave us a chance to rise out of the ashes and win this game.”
That hardly seemed possible staring at a 20-point halftime deficit.
“We challenged them (at intermission), but it was a different kind of challenge. We pointed out in life, you’re going to be in tough spots, and (asked) are you going to wait for somebody else to step in, or will you step up? These are such good young men, so willing to be coached, and thankfully, reflecting who they are, they responded,” said McConathy.
“Maybe I should have used that before the game.”