NATCHITOCHES – This time, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team saw what happens when the Demons don’t take care of the little things.
Even in the friendly confines of their home arena, the Demons were unable to fashion a strong closing run while visiting Nicholls did exactly that to pull away for a 76-66 Southland Conference victory Wednesday night.
“It slipped away because we didn’t take advantage of opportunities early on,” said 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy. “Give Nicholls a lot of credit because they really played hard. Pierce Spencer had eight rebounds, including three offensive rebounds that seemed to come at crucial times. Eighty percent of the time, we defended. We mixed some things up. We created problems. We just stumbled offensively.”
Despite shooting 38.7 percent from the floor and 60.9 percent from the free-throw line, the Demons (2-13, 1-3) never found themselves out of striking distance until having to foul in the final minute.
After taking a 53-49 lead on a Jairus Roberson 3 with 13:07 to play, Northwestern State weathered a 12-2 run by the Colonels (5-5, 3-1) that put Nicholls up six with 8:41 to play.
From there, the Demons grinded out a comeback that pulled them within one on a Trenton Massner layup with 3:55 to play.
Northwestern State managed only one more field goal – another Massner layup – in the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, Nicholls went inside for a couple of buckets and made just enough free throws to seal the win.
The Colonels’ closing kick mirrored the one they put together in the first half when Nicholls turned a one-point lead into as much as a seven-point advantage in the final 4:40 of the first half.
A 3-pointer from Massner with 12 seconds to play cut the lead to four at the break, which stood in stark contrast to the Demons’ fast start that saw them up by as much as eight in the first eight minutes.
“Once they started getting rebounds, making hustle plays, getting 50-50 plays, that’s when our energy started to drop,” said senior forward Larry Owens, who recorded a double-double of 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. “It’s like they poured water on us and cooled us down.”
The Demons left the door open with their struggles at the free throw line.
Massner and Jamaure Gregg were a combined 10-for-12 from the line, but the remainder of the Demon roster shot four for 11.
Nicholls had its struggles at the line as well, but the Colonels recovered to shoot 70 percent (7-for-10) from the line down the stretch.
“It’s little things that we continue to get over the hump with and learn how to win,” McConathy said. “There again, it goes back to the fact that we weren’t in enough games that were tight in the non-conference schedule to know what you need to do. We were also in a situation where guys were playing some minutes they haven’t been playing recently, so maybe we could have made some better situations. All in all, we competed hard, but we have to play harder.”
Massner paced Northwestern State with 16 points, extending his run of double-figure scoring to four straight game while Owens was the only other Demon to reach double figures. Jamaure Gregg scored all nine of his points after halftime after missing most of the first half with foul trouble while Carvell Teasett added nine points and a career-high five assists.
Najee Garvin’s 19 points led three Colonels in double figures while Ty Gordon produced a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double while handing out eight assists.
“Everybody’s playing as hard as they can in the moment,” Massner said. “I don’t know if they wanted it more than we did. Everyone wants it as bad as anyone else. Like Larry said, we just have to execute down the stretch. They got to the line at the end. We had some defensive breakdowns and didn’t get the key rebounds we needed.”
The Demons are off until Jan. 20 when they travel to Nacogdoches, Texas, to face Stephen F. Austin, tipping off a run of three of four games on the road.