SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Protecting a lead on the road with two starters injured, Northwestern State needed to find a way to hold off Incarnate Word.
The Cardinals sliced a 23-point lead down to three, but NSU’s defense stiffened and the Demons made free throws to pull out a 72-66 victory.
Junior Chudier Bile scored a career-high 22 points with 12-of-15 from the free-throw line. NSU’s final five points came from Bile at the line as the Demons shot 15-of-20 at the stripe.
“We really competed hard and had a lot of resolve,” McConathy said. “We did a lot of good things early, and we did good things early in the second half, too, before getting careless with the ball.
“But we were able to stave UIW off after a 23-point lead got cut down to one possession with some good free-throw shooting by Bile down the stretch and get some rebounds.”
Bile had 12 rebounds to log his third double-double of the season as NSU held a 53-47 rebounding despite the Cardinals grabbing 22 offensive boards.
NSU (6-8, 3-2 Southland Conference) has won four out of five games with multiple conference wins for the first time 2016-2017. The 3-2 start to league play is NSU’s best since 2014-2015.
Down by 19 points with 12 minutes left, UIW scored 10 straight points to get to nine points before Trenton Massner made a 3-pointer to stem the Cardinals momentum. Massner scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, his third straight game in double figures.
But UIW scored the next seven points to cut the NSU lead to 60-55 with 7:35 remaining. UIW freshman Keaston Willis’ 3-pointer was part of his team-high 16 points.
The Cardinals couldn’t find enough success from behind the arc though, making just 5-of-31 from long range and shooting just 32 percent overall.
A Brandon Swaby 3-pointer and three free throws from Willis cut NSU’s edge to 69-66, but Bile’s free-throw aim boosted the Demons to their first road win of the season.
NSU built its early lead on the backs of Bile and Massner offensively.
Up a point, NSU scored eight straight points that ballooned into a 16-4 run and a 23-10 edge.
Massner scored six of his nine first-half points during the run, which was capped by five points from Nikos Chougkaz, including a 3-pointer. Chougkaz left the game with a knee injury after contributing five points and eight rebounds in 11 minutes.
The Demons were also without sophomore guard Brian White and junior John Norvel, leaning heavily on junior C.J. Jones.
Jones played 30 minutes, contributing season highs of eight points and six assists.
“It’s a big win, our first road win, so you have to win your home games and steal some wins on the road,” said Jones, who has 45 career starts. “We feel good right now because any team can win on any given day because the teams have similar players.
“It’s nice to get the opportunity to get back in rhythm like I used to be. I let the game come to me.
The Demons made 5-of-9 from distance in the first half, which helped offset an abundance of missed shots in the paint as NSU shot 35 percent from the field.
“We missed a ton of easy shots tonight, and I don’t know what it was, but maybe we should have made the extra pass,” McConathy said. “We got ahead by running and shooting, and it was reminiscent of the HBU game, but then we started missing those shots and turning it over.
“I can think of seven unbelievable turnovers that I didn’t think I’d see, so we still have to work on the little things to be successful.”
But UIW struggled even more, making just 27 percent of its attempts despite creating open looks in the first half.
Roberson, Zelenbaba and Massner each made a pair of 3-pointers in the game as the Demons finished 7-of-15.
NSU defended the interior relatively well, posting 10 blocks led by four from Jamaure Gregg (had nine rebounds.
NSU stays on the road when the Demons head to McNeese on Saturday as the middle game of a three-game road swing.
CREDIT: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services