Demon basketball advance

12_20 Zeek Woodley.jpg

After a break for final exams, the Northwestern State Demons basketball team has its own final fall test Saturday afternoon when Missouri Valley’s Vikings visit Prather Coliseum for a  2 p.m. contest that is the back end of a doubleheader with the Lady Demons hosting Jackson State at noon.

Fans can get a $5 general admission ticket if they bring an unwrapped toy to donate to the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office Toys for Tots program.

The doubleheader is the last competition for both teams until Dec. 29, when the Lady Demons host Xavier while the Demons go to Centenary. That’s the last non-conference action of the season for the NSU squads, who open Southland Conference play at home Jan. 2 in an afternoon doubleheader against Houston Baptist.

The Demons haven’t played since a 75-62 loss last Tuesday (Dec. 8) at No. 16-ranked Baylor, a game that showcased significant progress for a squad that played six times in 15 days following the shocking loss of senior point guard Jalan West to a knee injury in the Nov. 13 season opener at Ole Miss.

“We’ve had time, between final exams, to have individual workouts and also practice as a team, and work on the areas of defense and rebounding that we have to improve upon,” said veteran coach Mike McConathy. “We’re making progress. We have a lot of ground to cover, but we’ve gotten good work done this month since we got back from Arkansas (a Dec. 1 loss).”

The Demons have the nation’s eighth-ranked scorer, junior swingman Zeek Woodley, who is averaging 23.8 points per game. Freshman center Ishmael Lane is scoring 12.4 per game while junior guard Sabri Thompson has a 10.0 average.

NSU (1-7), with losses to nationally-ranked Arizona and Baylor, Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss in a demanding early slate, rank fourth nationally with their 78.5 percent team free throw shooting rate. Woodley leads the way at 91.3 percent (42-46), 18th in the country.

Missouri Valley (5-6) visits Natchitoches for the sixth time since 2009. The Demons beat the Vikings 87-76 last Nov. 29. NSU assistant coach Jeff Moore is a Missouri Valley College alumnus.