CONWAY, Arkansas – Quiet by nature, Dalin Williams’ play in the second half Saturday afternoon at Central Arkansas spoke volumes.
Williams sparked the Northwestern State men’s basketball team off the bench and then took the biggest charge by a Demon this season, helping seal the Demons’ 81-77 Southland Conference victory and giving NSU its third straight win.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Williams said of anticipating the charge he drew from Central Arkansas’ Rylan Bergersen with 1.1 seconds left and the Demons leading by two. “Luckily, he was out of control enough and came into me, and they called it.”
After not playing in the first half when the Demons (5-14, 4-4) trailed by two at the intermission, Williams’ high-energy play – and a tactical shift – propelled Northwestern State to its third SLC road win in five tries.
Northwestern State forced Central Arkansas (3-13, 2-6) into just three first-half turnovers before unleashing a zone trap that led to 12 second-half miscues by the Bears.
“We held onto it,” said assistant head coach Jeff Moore, who filled in for head coach Mike McConathy, who missed the game with an illness. “We went back and forth on whether to run it in the first half. We thought if we could hold it, we would use it. It worked out where we got an advantage and a little lead, and it was just enough to hold on. We knew we were going to use it, but we wanted to wait for the right time.”
Before the Demons went to the trap, the Bears used their size advantage to build as much as a six-point lead with 7:08 to play in the first half. From there, neither team gained much of an advantage until the Demons pressured their way to a 12-0 run midway through the second half to take a nine-point lead with 8:30 to play on a dunk from Trenton Massner.
A pair of free throws from Jamaure Gregg, who turned in his first double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, and a LaTerrance Reed 3 answered consecutive Collin Cooper 3s and kept it a three-possession game with just less than five minutes to play.
Reed joined Massner (game-high 18), Gregg and freshman Carvell Teasett (14) in double figures for the Demons. Reed shot 3-for-7 from behind the 3-point arc, taking advantage of Gregg’s and Williams’ work inside.
“First and foremost, Larry (Owens) has come on strong, Jamaure has been great and Dalin Williams, we don’t win the game without him taking the charge,” Reed said. “When you get those guys involved early, they’ll work for you. A guy like me, a guy like Slim (Jairus Roberson), a guy like Carvell, we feed off that. We get them the ball, they’ll get it back to us. It’s coming together.”
For the second straight Saturday, the ball found its way into the hands of a Demon freshman at the free throw line, and he delivered. A week ago, it was Kendal Coleman sealing a win at Southeastern Louisiana with a pair of free throws.
Inside the Farris Center, it was Teasett’s turn. The Scotlandville product sank five of six free throws in the final 25 seconds, including a pair with 0.4 seconds that sealed NSU’s third straight win in Conway.
“As soon as I get to the line, I don’t take three dribbles,” Teasett said. “It hits my hand, two dribbles and let it go. We just know we have to pull together at the end. The tougher team. We didn’t fall apart. LT hit big shots. Dalin took that charge. It was a team effort.”
The Demons took punch after punch from the Bears and responded each time.
Moore pointed to a key two-handed dunk Gregg had with 15:49 to play in the game, answering a two-handed dunk from SK Shittu just seconds earlier.
Gregg keyed the Demons’ edge on the boards, collecting nine defensive boards and adding three of the Demons’ 15 offensive rebounds. Williams, living up to his “Psycho D” moniker from his teammates, added four offensive rebounds in the second half, helping NSU to a four-point edge in second-chance points.
“For some reason, I like playing against bigger guys,” Gregg said. “I feel like I have to do more. I know the team needed me to be strong on the glass, offensively and defensively. I tried to crash the glass aggressively.
“Dalin is an amazing player, an amazing guy. He deserves every great thing that comes his way. I think I was happier for him getting that dunk (with 4:16 to play) than getting the win. He takes charges from me all the time in practice. He’s a great help-side defender. I can trust him to be where he needs to be.”
The Demons have a week’s worth of rest ahead of them before they return to action Feb. 6 at home against Houston Baptist. Tip-off against the Huskies is set for 4 p.m. inside Prather Coliseum.