Strong first half not enough to knock off ACU

ABILENE, Texas – After one of the best first half performances of the season Northwestern State trailed by just six on the road against one of the best teams in the conference.

The second half was not as kind for the Lady Demons (5-16, 2-10 SLC) with four times as many turnovers and another scoring drought that allowed Abilene Christian (16-4, 8-3 SLC) to pull away for the 84-69 win.

“We had another one of those scoring droughts and some fatigue in the second half,” interim head coach Aaron Swinson said. “ACU had some back-door cuts on us and some offensive rebounds. The energy when we sub has to exceed what was on the floor before then. We can’t hold our heads down when something goes wrong either on the offensive or defensive sides.”

With snow falling outside Moody Coliseum there was plenty of heat to go around in the first three minutes of the game for both teams.

Jasmyn Johnson got on the board first and a pair of tough layups moments later from Lacee Savage got the Lady Demons out to a blazing start. Unfortunately, the best 3-point shooting team in the conference was equal to the task.

The Wildcats knocked down five shots from deep in the first 10 minutes of the game. Their early barrage didn’t faze the Lady Demons despite falling behind 18-9 after back-to-back treys prior to the media timeout.

NSU owned the final four minutes of the quarter sparked by a pair of 3’s of their own from Gabby Bell to start and end a 13-5 run that made it a one-point game at the end of the first quarter.

Two quick baskets from Victoria Miller and Johnson gave the Lady Demons the early second quarter lead but more bombs from the Wildcats brought them right back. Bell continued a tremendous first half cutting the lead down to one on two occasions the rest of the quarter.

Her final trey of the half made it a 40-39 game with 3:21 remaining but ACU ended the frame on an 8-3 run as the Wildcats went cold from the field. ACU held the 48-42 advantage at the end of the half but the game was anyone’s to have with 20 minutes to go.

“It came back to coming in and knowing the personnel,” Swinson said. “I told them early to play as if it was their last game, play for someone you think is watching the game, just give it your all. I told them I couldn’t be prouder of how they came out in that first half.”

With only three turnovers and seven fouls in the first half the Lady Demons had turned in their best half of the season. Needing an equal performance in the second to pull off the upset, NSU saw the demons that have plagued them all season once again.

ACU started the third with an 8-3 run to build a double-digit lead early, forcing an NSU timeout. The Lady Demons fought back to cut it to eight on a jumper from Johnson with 2:43 left in the quarter. She would hit another before the end of the frame but ACU had another 8-2 run to create the 66-52 lead going to final period.

Six turnovers in the third and five more in the fourth led to 14 ACU points in the second half alone. Unable to match the 45 percent shooting effort from the first half, the Lady Demons managed to shoot just 28 percent in the second and score just 27 points.

“The first thing I told them after the game was that they can play with anybody,” Swinson said. “I know that we lost today but I want to see the effort in it. If they have the effort we had in the first half here again on Saturday I think we’ll have different results.”

NSU continues its three-game road trip on Saturday at Houston Baptist, looking for the season sweep of the Huskies.

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Photo credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services