NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State basketball’s Christmas will be a little bit merrier after the Demons displayed toughness Saturday in a comeback win against Lamar.
NSU erased a nine-point Lamar lead midway through the second half and held off a pesky Cardinals team down the stretch in a 67-61 win.
The Demons (3-7, 1-1 Southland Conference) made four of their nine 3-pointers as part of a 17-6 run over the next six minutes to build a lead they never lost to the Cardinals (7-6, 1-1 SLC).
“We made extra hustle plays,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, who said entering into the first week of SLCplay that his team needed to develop more toughness. “Both Lamar and Sam Houston State (Demons lost to on Wednesday) are both tough teams, and we did match that.
“To be honest, we didn’t play as much zone as I had planned because we were competing. We were taking the scout and implementing it. This is a step in the right direction for these guys to do those things.”
Junior Jairus Roberson started the run with a 3-pointer and had four of his game-high 18 points, which is also a career-high.
Junior Chudier Bile, NSU’s leading scorer who was held scoreless in the first half with foul trouble, scored eight points in the run and finished the second half with 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
Freshman Nikos Chougkaz sank the other 3-pointer in the spurt, rounding out his best overall performance of the season with 17 points, nine rebounds, four steals and four blocks. All four were career highs.
Roberson feels this team, which is continuing to mix in eight newcomers, is playing at a higher level.
“We’re finally coming together, and I love it,” Roberson said. “My boy Nikos played outstanding, and we had a lot of guys step up today.
“We finally found the intensity our coach was looking for, and we’re going to keep that going throughout the rest of conference play and the season.”
NSU’s defense also delivered, particularly in the latter stages against a Lamar team that averaged 71 points per game.
The Demons totaled nine steals and eight blocks while holding the Cardinals to 39 percent from the field and just 4-of-15 from deep (27 percent).
After Lamar sliced the NSU lead to 56-55 with three minutes remaining, Chougkaz drilled one of his three 3-pointers before Roberson tacked on a layup to put the game out of reach.
“Game-by-game, I’m feeling more comfortable with my team and my teammates – it was a team win today,” Chougkaz said. “Finally I made some 3s – I’ve been practicing every day.
“We had to stop their offensive rebounds and had to prove our defensive toughness to win this game, and we did that today.”
Leading 31-29 at halftime, NSU suffered through a seven-minute drought without a field goal as Lamar grabbed a 41-33 lead by starting the half 12-2 run.
The Cardinals forced six of NSU’s 15 turnovers in that stretch, which included 11 steals by Lamar guard Ellis Jefferson (a double-double with 12 points).
But an offensive rebound dunk by Jamaure Gregg, who played for the first time in two weeks after a concussion, revved the Demons’ engine. Gregg collected six rebounds in 16 minutes as NSU held a 35-32 rebounding edge.
After an 0-7 start from the field, NSU closed the second half by making 11-of-16.
Lamar had four scorers in double figures led by Jefferson and Anderson Kopp with 12 points. Avery Sullivan contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.
For NSU, sophomore Brian White had a career-high seven assists with sophomore Trenton Massner adding a career-high five assists as the Demons assisted on 14 of its 23 made baskets.
The Demons snapped a four-game losing streak and recorded its first win in more than a month dating back to a Nov. 19 win against Louisiana College.
NSU will take an eight-day break before returning to action at home against Champion Christian on Dec. 29.