Northwestern State’s 94-79 homecourt loss Monday night to Southland Conference rival Sam Houston State left veteran Demons’ coach Mike McConathy encouraged.
That’s right. After watching his team absorb a second straight double-digit home loss, McConathy was convinced he saw the pieces of a season-long puzzle perhaps coming together based on the grit his squad showed in the second half.
“I know it sounds crazy. We just got beat 15 at home, but we got better tonight. We got better because in the second half we began to figure out what it will take for this team to play good basketball,” said McConathy. “But for the second straight game, our opponent had a fantastic shooting performance.”
The Bearkats (7-8 overall, 2-0 in the Southland) posted season-best numbers: 57 percent overall aim, 16 points better than normal for a team that had made no better than 44 percent in its last five outings; and draining half their 26 3-point shots, 19 percentage points better than average. Sam Houston hit 53 percent from both areas while building a gaping 50-30 halftime advantage.
But the effort and defensive intensity displayed by the Demons afterward allowed them to make several runs, drawing as close as 10 points with 6:19 left on a three-point play by junior guard Sabri Thompson, who scored a career-high 22.
Then Sam Houston converted each time following two straight turnovers and a missed shot, rebuilt the spread to 16 points in the next minute, and NSU (3-9, 0-2) got no closer than 13 afterward.
The Demons got the fifth 30-point game of his career by junior swingman Zeek Woodley, who posted 31 on 11 of 15 shooting from the field, 8 of 11 aim at the free throw line, to go with a game-best 8 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Devonte Hall, who missed Saturday’s league opener due to his grandmother’s funeral, bounced back with 13 points, 5 assists and 2 steals.
“In the second half we defended hard, we rebounded better, and we gave everything we had,” said Hall.
The two pivotal turnovers that helped the Bearkats pull away from the 79-69 margin were among only five after halftime, following 12 miscues by NSU in the first half.
“They scored 18 points in the first half off our 12 turnovers. They hit 10 3-pointers. They were extremely good but still, we essentially gave them the margin at halftime with the points off turnovers,” said McConathy. “Finally in the second half, we discovered what can happen with relentless effort defensively. We got some easy baskets, we built some confidence, we became the aggressive team.”
NSU churned up 10 second-half turnovers by the Bearkats and scored 14 points off them.
“It could be a turning point, but that’s determined by what we do the rest of this week in practice, what we do Saturday in San Antonio,” McConathy said. “We have 16 games left. That’s a bunch. I like the quality of these young men and I am proud of them for bowing up and fighting back.”
SHSU was led by 19 points by Dakarai Henderson, topping four double-digit scorers. The Bearkats, who never trailed and jumped to a 10-1 lead, posted a 31-29 edge on the boards.
The Demons will play their next three conference games on the road, beginning Saturday at Incarnate Word. Their next home contest is Jan. 19 against A&M-Corpus Christi.