NATCHITOCHES – Jairus Roberson authored a memorable moment Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Northwestern State men’s basketball team, it was just enough to force overtime.
Once the extra five minutes arrived, the Demons could not find an answer for the Warhawks’ Luke Phillips as the Australian forward pushed ULM to a 92-83 victory inside Prather Coliseum.
“We were fortunate to get it to overtime, but we didn’t have enough to finish it,” said 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy. “I was really pleased with (Roberson’s) play. Brian White and Kendal Coleman did a great job to keep us in it in overtime until things went haywire on us.”
Phillips had eight of his 11 points in overtime, helping the Warhawks (1-1) hit five of its seven shots in the extra period. That surge was part of a final 25 minutes in which ULM hit 16 of 33 shots after slogging through a 10-for-31 first-half shooting performance.
Such a moment seemed unlikely with the Demons (0-5) trailing 76-69 with 24 seconds to play. That’s when Roberson summoned a remarkable personal run.
With 24 seconds left, Roberson was fouled by Koreem Ozier on a right-wing 3-pointer and sank all three free throws.
The Demons fouled Ozier on the ensuing possession and saw him miss both free throws. Moving the ball quickly upcourt, Roberson caught the ball on the left wing and nailed a long 3 as Russell Harrison fouled him.
After a timeout, Roberson calmly sank the game-tying free throw.
“There was a little talking through the course of the game,” said Roberson, who connected on a career-high six 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 22 points. “(Ozier) missed a free throw that would have put them in a good spot. I said, ‘We’ve still got a chance.’ I ran down the floor and confused the defense.
“I knew the guy guarding me was 6-6 or whatever, but I did not care. I was feeling it, and I let it fly, and the ref blessed me with that foul.”
ULM had one chance to win the game in regulation, but the Demons forced a tough layup opportunity by Marco Morency, whose miss was corralled by Coleman.
Coleman’s rebound was one of a game-high 15 for the freshman, who added a career-best 18 points for his first double-double.
Twelve of Coleman’s points came in the second half when the Demons needed an offensive lift.
“I knew we needed some energy coming out of the half,” said Coleman, who has established a career high in either points or rebounds in three of the past four games.
“It was a tight game throughout. I knew I had to do what coach asked – get rebounds, putbacks, get the ball inside and score as much as I can.”
The Demons’ momentum carried over into the first couple of minutes of overtime courtesy of White, who began probing the ULM defense successfully.
White scored all seven of NSU’s points, all of which came in the first 2:29 of the extra period.
After that, the Demons could not solve Phillips, a 6-foot-10 forward who hit a pair of 3s and added a layup as the Warhawks scored the final nine points of the game.
“We got in situations where they set ball screens, and we were in help mode instead of staying attached to (Phillips),” McConathy said. “He wound that thing up like a big league pitcher, and he nailed that thing. Those two in overtime broke our back.”
ULM’s second-half offensive efficiency came after a first half in which the Warhawks lived at the free throw line. ULM’s 18 first-half free throws equaled Northwestern State’s total for regulation.
The Warhawks hit 30 of 38 free throws, compared to a 14-for-20 performance for Northwestern State.
In addition to Roberson and Coleman, LaTerrance Reed added 10 points for NSU. Ozier led five Warhawks in double figures with 16, getting assistance from Harrison (14), Morency (13), Thomas Howell (12) and Phillips (11).
The Demons return to action Saturday when they host Champion Christian at 4 p.m. That will be the final home game for Northwestern State for 19 days until a New Year’s Eve matinee against Louisiana College.