NATCHITOCHES – Maybe the Northwestern State Athletic Department should distribute “Demon defibrillators” for NSU men’s basketball games.
The Demons notched their fifth straight victory Saturday afternoon, doing so in what has become their signature style, holding off visiting McNeese, 69-66, inside Prather Coliseum.
“As I told them after the game, we found a way to win when I thought we didn’t play our best,” 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy said. “That’s the beautiful part of this. After the November and December struggles and the early January struggles, we found a way to win. Case in point, it’s a three-point game and Carvell Teasett comes up with an unbelievable play to keep them from getting a shot off. Dalin Williams at UCA takes a charge with 1.1 seconds to play. At UIW, we get a great defensive stop on Wednesday night.
“Finding a way to win and doing it a little bit unconventionally is a big thing.”
For the second straight game, Teasett, a freshman from Baton Rouge, factored into a late-game stop that preserved a win for the Demons (7-14, 6-4). With the Demons up three with 5.8 seconds to play, Teasett missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw.
Undeterred, the freshman cleanly swiped the ball from McNeese’s Zach Scott and ran out the clock as Northwestern State posted its first five-game win streak since Feb. 14-March 2, 2015.
“I know this streak is very important to us,” said Teasett, who led Northwestern State with 17 points, including nine in the second half. “When I missed that free throw, I knew I couldn’t hang my head because there was still five seconds left. I had to give it all I got. I saw him put the ball straight in my face, and I said, ‘I’m going to take this.’”
The victory gave NSU a sweep of the two-game season series with the Cowboys (8-11, 2-8) and extended the Demons’ run of success in close games.
NSU is now 5-0 in games decided by three points or less, a stretch that began with a 78-75 win against the Cowboys in Lake Charles on Jan. 9.
It continued with consecutive wins this week with defense as the theme, especially in the closing seconds. In Wednesday’s win at Incarnate Word, Teasett and LaTerrance Reed forced Keaston Willis to miss a tough shot with less than 5 seconds to play, sealing a one-point win.
It was the Demons’ defense that allowed NSU to take a four-point lead into the halftime locker room as Reed turned a late steal into a three-point play.
“First and foremost, it’s a team effort,” he said. “Guys are locking in on defense. We know our shots weren’t falling early, so we had to find a spark. This team is finding its way. We’re turning defense into offense.”
After a first half that saw neither team crack the 44-percent mark from the floor, both teams awoke offensively in the second half. McNeese outshot the Demons 57.1 percent (16-for-28) to 56 percent (14-for-25), but NSU overcame that by connecting on 6 of 10 3-point shots.
Four of the biggest 3s in the second half belonged to a pair of Demon guards.
Trenton Massner knocked down two of them – one from each corner – 58 seconds apart to swing a one-point NSU deficit to a five-point lead the Demons never relinquished in the final 2:55.
Massner had all 10 of his points in the second half.
“I was mentally out of it all game, and I don’t know what caused it,” Massner said. “I’ve heard people say defense sparks your offense, and when we got that scrum on the ground, that got me going. I pulled up in the corner and hit a tough shot, and when I hit a tough shot, the hoop feels like an ocean.”
That scrum came around midcourt in a tie game with 6:13 to play. Massner emerged from a mass of bodies with the ball, flipped it up to Jamaure Gregg who fed Reed for a left-wing 3 that broke a 53-all tie.
After McNeese regained the lead with a 4-0 spurt, Massner’s 3s put NSU ahead to stay despite another quick four-point burst from the Cowboys.
NSU maintained their advantage because of another massive 3 – this one from White, whose top-of-the-key, step-back 3 beat the shot clock and gave the Demons a 65-61 lead with 59 seconds to play.
That was enough as the NSU press forced McNeese to take time off the clock and allowed the Demons to ride out their fifth straight win.
“Our focus was big, trying to get this five-game win streak,” White said. “We had been struggling at home, so we all locked in and got it home. Like I said after the last game, (after the first McNeese game) we had a practice where we worked on straight defense. That had been our problem, giving up too many points. Since then, we’ve done pretty good.”
The Demons return to action Wednesday when they travel to Nicholls for a 7 p.m. matchup against the Colonels.