by Matt Vines, Northwestern State Sports Information Graduate Assistant
NATCHITOCHES – Senior Janelle Perez might be best known for her ball handling and distribution, but the “ultimate point guard” showcased her scoring Monday as she led Northwestern State to a 69-49 win against Sam Houston State.
Perez scored a season-high 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting, the seventh-best field goal percentage in the NCAA this season.
She tied a career high with 19 points in the first half to help the Lady Demons (8-5, 2-0 Southland Conference) build a 37-20 halftime edge en route to NSU’s fifth straight win. Sam Houston State (5-7, 1-1 SLC) dropped its first conference game of the season.
Perez did most of her damage from long range, burying a career-high seven of her eight 3-point attempts, which ties NSU’s top performance from distance in program history.
“She’s capable of doing that every night,” said co-head coach Brooke Stoehr of Perez, whose previous season-high 22 points is the only game in which she scored more than her first-half 19 points. “She’s very unselfish, and she likes to get other people involved.
“I’d like to get her 12 to 15 shot per game because of the way she shoots the ball. But I thought we did a great job of sharing the basketball tonight, and she was the recipient of several of those.”
Perez previously scored 19 points in half against Alcorn State in 2012 in just her second game as a Lady Demon.
Perez, who is one of the nation’s best in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio, had just two of NSU’s 20 assists on 28 field goals.
“We went in with the mindset of getting the ball in the paint initially, and we (successfully) went inside out,” Perez said. “I knocked down some shots. I was just shooting. I shoot every day after practice, and it’s just natural to me to catch it and shoot it.
“It feels good to shoot it like that, and when you’re hot, you just want to keep throwing it up there. But this was definitely a team win, and that’s what it comes down to every night. Our post play is drawing a lot of attention, so that’s helping the guards get free.”
Of the nine Lady Demons that recorded an assist, junior guard Shahd Abboud led the team with four to go with her 13 points. Sophomore forward Tia Youngblood and senior guard Keisha Lee each had three assists to further headline seven NSU players with multiple assists.
“You want a player like Janelle on your side because she’s the ultimate team player and ultimate point guard with an ability to make everyone around her better,” Stoehr said. “She’s so good at that … and when she hits shots, it’s a bonus.
“Above all else, she wants to win. She’s a really good competitor. We’ve had success because we have a group of kids who aren’t concerned about themselves as individuals but more so our overall success as a team.”
Sam Houston cut a nine-point NSU lead to 22-18 early in the second quarter, but the Lady Demons responded with a 15-2 run to end the half. Perez scored 11 of those points, including three 3-pointers.
Improved post play from NSU’s young players has been showcased in multiple ways in the last few weeks, but rebounding and defense have been especially prominent in conference play.
The Lady Demons held its first two SLC opponents under 50 points – Houston Baptist (44 points) and Sam Houston (49 points). The Bearkats shot just 34 percent while NSU scorched the nets at nearly 51 percent.
The Lady Demons owned the glass with a 40-26 edge, including a 12-10 advantage on the offensive boards despite facing a larger Sam Houston squad.
Freshman post Cheyenne Brown recorded a game-high 10 rebounds while the 5-foot-2 Perez chipped in with seven. Freshman post Emerald Mayfield had four rebounds.
Seeing fresh posts coming off the bench is a luxury for NSU, who struggled with post depth during this past season on its way to a second straight Southland Conference Tournament title and NCAA appearance.
“Our young kids are growing up,” Stoehr said. “It’s nice to be able to defend and rebound and not give up possessions down the stretch.
“When you can allow teams to have to make shots against a zone and we can rebound in it, you can really start to do some things defensively. It’s nice because each of (our posts) is different in their own way. We’re about to face some athletic, smaller post players, and we’ll have to play a little bit different style. But we have a good mix of athletes, size and versatility.”
The win is NSU’s fifth straight, the first five-game winning streak since the Lady Demons started conference play with five games this past season.
NSU starts a stretch of five road games in the next six, starting with Abilene Christian on Thursday.