Demons hold off Incarnate Word, extend win streak to four

SAN ANTONIO – The Northwestern State men’s basketball team swears it does not like close games.

That said, the Demons are becoming quite proficient when it comes to white-knuckle finishes.

Once again, the Demons built a nine-point lead late in the second half and then held on for a Southland Conference road victory, defeating Incarnate Word 68-67 inside the McDermott Convocation Center on Wednesday night.

“You don’t like the nail-biters,” junior guard Brian White said. “You always like to keep and extend the lead, but we kept it at the end and that’s what really matters.”

The Demons (6-14, 5-4) broke open what had been a nip-and-tuck game with a 13-2 run in the second half, building a 67-58 lead on Kendal Coleman’s two-handed dunk off a White assist with 3:56 to play.

Just as they did 11 days ago in their most recent game – an 81-77 win at Central Arkansas on Jan. 30 – the Demons nearly saw that lead evaporate.

UIW (8-9, 5-5) sliced the lead to one on Des Balentine’s layup with 42.1 seconds to play, capping a 9-1 surge for the Cardinals.

While Northwestern State’s late-game offense was not sharp, the final possession showed the Demons’ renewed defensive strength.

LaTerrance Reed and Carvell Teasett combined to hound Keaston Willis into an off-balance pull-up from the left baseline that was long. Trenton Massner corralled the rebound, leading to a succession of UIW fouls as the Demons held on to extend their season-long winning streak to four games.

“That’s been part of my growth this year,” said Reed, who finished with 10 points, one of four Demons to score in double figures. “Talking with coach Mike (McConathy) this summer, he said, ‘We know you can shoot the ball, but this team needs a leader on defense.’ Night in and night out, he challenges me to go out and guard their best player. It’s not just me. It’s a team effort. Slim (Jairus Roberson) comes in and guards. Jovan (Zelenbaba), Carvell, it’s a team effort, not just one guy.”

That team effort was evident throughout the night on both ends of the floor.

Jamaure Gregg led NSU with 15 points, getting assistance from White (11), Kendal Coleman (11) and Reed. For White, it was his first double-figure scoring game of the season as he eclipsed 10 points for the first time since the 2020 Southland Conference Tournament win against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

“We did a good job of knowing who to get the ball to and when to do it,” McConathy said. “Jamaure had an incredible stretch in the first half. He took the ball to the bucket early in the second half when he had a good matchup.

“They’re a tough team for us to score on and for us to defend. I thought the adjustments they made in the second half were monumental. (Marcus) Larsson was hard to handle for stretches.”

But in a second half that saw both teams top 59-percent shooting, it came down to the Demons getting a stop against Willis, who finished with a game-high 20 points.

“Carvell and LT did a great job of playing basketball,” McConathy said. “He was going to take the shot. They doubled him. We weren’t going to let somebody else beat us. We’re doing the little things.”

The Demons return to action Saturday at 7 p.m. when they host McNeese. It is the first home game for Northwestern State since Jan. 27.