Northwestern State basketball Jalan West felt a little pressure competing against University president Dr. Jim Henderson Monday night, and that was even before their much-anticipated game of H-O-R-S-E started.
After falling behind two letters to one, West was even more jumpy, but it was Henderson feeling the butterflies at the end.
West took a jumper over the head of Tonia, Henderson’s wife of 22 years, and drained a 20-footer that eventually sealed the H-O-R-S-E game Monday evening in Henderson’s own backyard, nicknamed “The Brickyard” because of the red-brick patio in the president’s on-campus home.
Henderson, 46, admitted he couldn’t concentrate with his beautiful wife in close proximity, after he short-armed his final shot to lose.
“It was a dirty trick,” Henderson said in a post-game discussion with Jalan. “(Tonia) distracts me to this day. She’s right in front of me, and all I could think about was the butterflies in my stomach.
“There’s no way I could make that shot with that beautiful creature from Gueydan (Louisiana) standing in front of me.”
West admitted he improvised the last shot, especially after missing several long-range attempts while seated from the patio chair.
“I just saw a pretty face in the crowd and figured it would go in my favor,” West said. “It was a distraction for him, and it worked.”
West, the NCAA’s 16th-leading scorer averaging 20 points per game this past season, is used to getting his buckets down the road in historic Prather Coliseum.
But one July 2 tweet after driving past Henderson’s house eventually brought him to Henderson’s backyard, complete with a portable Spalding basketball goal, a large oak tree with a dangling yellow rope and a pitched tent to replace the airplane hangar-shaped coliseum.
“Never noticed @DrJBHenderson had a goal in the backyard, wonder if I could get a game of horse sometime soon…,” West tweeted from his @jalanwest12 account.
Henderson quipped on July 3 that NSU alumni needed to donate $100 for every letter he scores and $1,000 for every letter West scores.
But the wily academic, whose late father Clem was a state championship-winning prep basketball coach at Fair Park High, had the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major All-American on his heels early.
Laying in a reclined patio chair at least 15 feet away from the hoop, Henderson banked in his first shot, to the cheers of the 50 fans in attendance.
“It was great for me to get the first shot to go down, to get that first letter on him,” Henderson said.
West missed, and he failed to make several other trick shots before finally making a traditional jumper to find his rhythm.
That make evened the score with an ‘H’ apiece, and Henderson fended off another letter by answering West’s angled shot over the side of the backboard.
Henderson nailed a long jumper as the ultimate underdog snatched a one-letter lead (H to H-O).
“If you hadn’t of got going with your jump shot – I had you on the ropes,” Henderson said. “My whole goal was just to make it longer than five shots.
“To get two letters to me was like climbing Mount Everest.”
West responded, “Yeah you had me. That’s why I had to get my shot going. I had to see my ball go in – otherwise I would have lost.
“But I had to keep the game a little close. If I would have won in five shots, I might have not been able to graduate,” said the senior-to-be. “At first I thought I was in a lose-lose situation, but now I think we’re both winners because I built your confidence up.”
West’s 25-foot underhand shot from the back patio’s brick columns started the rout. West mocked Henderson by making a “fundamental backboard” shot that Henderson previously missed for the third letter before the point guard placed one foot on a table and another on a chair for Henderson’s ‘R.’
A rematch is anticipated in Prather Coliseum in October. Henderson said he didn’t want to damage the psyche of his star heading into the season.
“Ohh, that’s why we didn’t win the Southland Conference last year,” Henderson joked after West missed a shot that scored his ‘O.’
“But now he has the confidence to win the Southland title,” Henderson said post-game. “As a university president, you have to be to humiliate yourself on the behalf of the University and think long-term.
West responded, “You’re like a point guard, thinking seven plays ahead. I only think two or three plays ahead.”
The trick shots were aplenty, but nothing crazy like inviting a guest defender like West’s former Demon teammate, Will Mosley, the NCAA”s fifth-leading career shotblocker.
Whatever the result of the next H-O-R-S-E game, the connection between “#CoolPrez” (West’s Twitter moniker for Henderson) wise to the ways of social media and a silky-smooth star point guard hopefully destined to play under the bright NBA lights was evident.
“We’re so fortunate to have Jalan on campus in Natchitoches – he is what a scholar-athlete is supposed to be,” Henderson said. “He engages the community and is a leader on campus, and he plays basketball like nobody’s business.”