NEW ORLEANS – Northwestern State has a long and rich history against many Louisiana opponents, but the Demons will add a chapter Saturday to a Tulane series that has rarely occurred in the past.
NSU (1-2) faces the Green Wave (2-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m., just the eighth meeting all-time between the programs. Jason Pugh will have the call on 95.9 FM or fans can catch the contest on ESPN3.
NSU is 3-4 all-time in the series with head coach Mike McConathy posting a 1-1 mark. NSU won the last matchup in 2004-05 (85-72) in Natchitoches. Tulane won the previous contest in in Fogelman Arena (83-66) in 2003-04.
First-year Tulane coach Ron Hunter is already halfway to the Wave’s win total from the previous season (four) with wins against Southeastern and Jackson State.
Basketball fans likely remember Hunter from Georgia State, leading the Panthers to three NCAA Tournaments and an upset win against No. 3 seed Baylor in 2015.
McConathy, who has his own NCAA Tournament upset vs. No. 3 seed Iowa in 2006 and three NCAA Tournament trips, knows his Demons will be challenged.
“Hunter may new at Tulane, but he’s extremely successful at Georgia State,” McConathy said. “He has tremendous zone defenses, and he’ll mix them up and play them as a matchup zone.
“Tulane has highly skilled players and has some size, similar to Rice except maybe more athletic and a little bigger. They have a lot of transfers (eight, including from Arkansas, Kansas, Georgia and Oklahoma), but they seem to be adapting to his system pretty well.”
Zone defenses have the potential to create rebounding deficiencies, something NSU might be equipped to exploit.
The Demons outrebounded Texas A&M by seven and lost the board battle by one to Rice in losses. NSU outrebounded Centenary 42-28.
Junior Chudier Bile has two double-digit rebounding efforts (12 vs. Rice and 11 vs. Centenary), pairing 10 points vs. the Owls for his first career double-double.
Bile’s 9.7 rebounds leads the Southland Conference and ranks 81st nationally.
Other Demons like junior Jamaure Gregg and freshman Nikos Chougkaz (five rebounds per game each) and freshman Jovan Zelenbaba (3.7 rebounds per game) have helped NSU build a plus-four rebounding margin through three games despite two of its opponents hailing from the Southeastern Conference and Conference USA.
“(Tulane’s zone defense) could help us (rebounding) if we choose to go to the boards, but if we don’t, we won’t have that opportunity,” McConathy said. “The key to our rebounding in the first two games is that our guards rebounded, and we didn’t do that against Rice even though we were almost even on the glass.
“If guards can rebound on offense and defense, we can be successful.”
Another area in which NSU should have plenty of chances against zone defense is shooting from long range.
The Demons are 28-of-80 from 3-point range (35 percent) in three games, averaging more than nine makes. That’s after a season in which NSU shot 29 percent from deep and made just six 3-pointers per game.
Junior Jairus Roberson leads the Demons with six 3-pointers (on 22 attempts) with senior LaTerrance Reed (5-of-11) and Brian White (5-of-8) showing their efficiency from behind the arc, which was moved back about 17 inches to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches.
White had a career night against Rice on Tuesday, scoring 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 4-of-5 from distance.
Ball movement will be needed against zone defense, and the Demons want to increase their seven assist total against Rice after averaging 16.5 assists in its opening two contests.
“We need to take care of the ball and get back in transition,” McConathy said. “Our transition offense also has to be very efficient.”
PHOTO CUTLINE: Junior Jamaure Gregg records one of his three blocks against Rice on Tuesday. NSU hits the road at Tulane for a 1 p.m. Saturday tip, which will be aired on ESPN3.
CREDIT: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services