NATCHITOCHES — With positioning for a Southland Conference Tournament bid at stake Wednesday, Northwestern State pieced together its most impressive offensive first half of the season as the Demons cruised to a 95-73 win against New Orleans.
NSU (13-15, 10-9 SLC) attacked the basket and attacked the glass to score 51 first-half points en route to a 20-point halftime lead, its largest since the opener against Centenary (25 points).
“We’ve come out sometimes like that, but sometimes we haven’t,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “It was great to do that home after letting some games get away recently at home.
“We haven’t put 40 minutes together yet, but a lot of positives tonight. We had some good play out of a lot of different people, and we had great nights at the free-throw line, rebounding and in the turnover category.”
The 22-point win is the second SLC victory of at least 20 points this season, coming after a 27-point win against Houston Baptist.
The Demons swept UNO (8-21, 4-15 SLC) for the first time since 2015.
NSU took another step to its first SLC Tournament bid in four years, but a third Texas A&M-Corpus Christi win in a row means the bottom half of the tournament won’t be decided until the final day.
The Demons have the inside track on one of eight spots as they are tied with Lamar in fifth place. But McNeese (9-10), Central Arkansas (9-10) and TAMU-CC (9-10) all have a shot to equal NSU’s conference win total should the Demons not win at UCA in the season finale.
The Islanders host HBU and McNeese heads to Lamar.
“It’s very important to get a win, and we did our part,” McConathy said. “We just have to go and take care of our business on Saturday.”
On the flip side, NSU could be in a tie for a first-round bye should fourth-place Sam Houston State (11-7) not upset league champion Stephen F. Austin (18-1) and the Demons beat UCA.
Junior Jamaure Gregg supplied most of his 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first period as four Demons reached double figures.
Gregg tied his career high in points set against ULM earlier this season.
“We’ve been battling against ourselves in practice since we’ve lost (three straight), and we knew we needed to win out and go at it with a certain focus,” Gregg said. “When we’ve lost, we tend to learn more. When we’ve lost, the other team was more aggressive than us. We had to do that tonight.
“The double double felt good, but I’m glad we got the win.”
The Demons made 18-of-21 free throws against the depleted Privateers in the first half, putting a team that dressed just eight players into early foul trouble.
NSU made a season-high 34 free throws (43 attempts).
“We need to do a better job of scoring the ball inside, but I felt like we attacked them,” McConathy said. “The ball went inside and out, and make some big shots and grab some big rebounds.”
NSU used methodical 27-10 run in the first half to build a 32-16 lead and never look back.
Trenton Massner and Gregg combined for the first eight points of the run to push NSU’s edge to 15-8.
The slow burn continued with the free-throw parade as 14 of NSU’s first 32 points came from the line.
Massner contributed 13 points and five rebounds, joining Gregg and juniors Jairus Roberson (19 points) and Chudier Bile (10 points and seven rebounds) in double figures.
“It’s big because UNO wasn’t in the tournament picture anymore, and we wanted to put them away early,” Massner said. “The quick start was big for us, and if we just come out and win, it doesn’t matter what other teams do.
“We focused on containing and contesting UNO. Even though UNO got to the line a lot in the second half (22-37 overall), we were up by enough that we got away with it.”
Roberson scored 11 of his 19 points in the first half and shot 4-of-8 overall from the 3-point range. With 72 made 3-pointers, Roberson is in seventh all-time in NSU single-season history.
NSU’s defense returned to its usual form, forcing the Privateers to shoot 39percent from the floor. The Demons, who lead the league with 40 percent field goal defense, held one of the conference’s best scorers in check in Bryson Robinson (12 points on 5-of-16 shooting).
Troy Green led all scorers with 21 points, but UNO didn’t have the depth of NSU on Wednesday.
Eleven different Demons scored with eight of those contributing at least six points. Freshman Nikos Chougkaz (eight points and 10 rebounds), sophomore Brian White (eight points) and junior Larry Owens (six points, five rebounds) were also key contributors.
NSU won the rebounding battle 45-38, which included seven of the Demons’ 14 offensive rebounds coming in the opening minutes.
Loyola College Prep product Dominique Kennedy saw his first college action of his career, scoring four points.