Lady Demons build big lead, hold off pesky Loyola

Kira Bonner LOY 24 Breyah Richardson.jpg

For three quarters, everything went according to plan for the Northwestern State women’s basketball team on Nov. 24.

And in one 10-minute span, it nearly went for naught.

Visiting Loyola whittled a 22-point, third-quarter deficit to five in the fourth quarter before the Lady Demons held on for a 71-66 victory at Prather Coliseum.

“We talked about it in the locker room,” third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “There were a lot of little things we didn’t get done. Offensive rebounds, loose balls, stepping and meeting passes. Loyola created that. We did what we wanted to do for three quarters, but the lesson we need to learn from today is one bad quarter can cost you a game.”

That one bad quarter came after Northwestern State (3-2) seemed to have put the game away with one of its most efficient quarters of the season.

Leading by 11 at halftime, the Lady Demons pushed the lead to 22 on a Jasmyn Johnson 3-pointer with 2:15 to play in the third quarter. NSU shot 71.4 percent (10-for-14) from the field in the quarter to build the big lead.

Johnson’s 3 was the only NSU bucket for the next 3:30 of game time, during which Loyola, an NAIA team playing the game as an exhibition, went on an 8-3 run. That surge grew to 13-3 after Tay Cannon’s layup at the 6:39 mark of the fourth quarter.

As hot as the Lady Demons were in the third quarter, they were equally as cold in the fourth, shooting 33.3 percent (4-for-12) and missing all five of their 3-point attempts.

The 22-point edge NSU built in the third quarter turned out to be just enough of a cushion as the Wolfpack failed to take complete advantage of their opportunities.

Loyola found itself in the bonus with 8:22 remaining in the fourth quarter but hit just 7 of 13 free throws in the quarter, allowing Northwestern State to hang on and post its first back-to-back wins of the season and first since Nov. 12-15, 2017.

“We’ve got to celebrate the win and be honest that we have a long way to go,” Dupuy said. “Understand the lesson but celebrate the win.”

For three quarters, it looked very much like Northwestern State easily would continue its mastery of non-Division I opponents. NSU won its 22nd straight game against a non-Division I foe, but the five-point margin of victory was the smallest since a 61-56 win against Arkansas-Monticello on Dec. 17, 2014.

The Lady Demons shot a shade under 50 percent (24 for 39) in the first 30 minutes and forced 18 Loyola turnovers, turning them into 24 points.

Victoria Miller played a key role in building that lead. In her first start of the season, Miller tallied a season-best 11 points and a career-high six steals.

After not scoring in the first three games of the season, Miller dropped in 19 points in wins against Loyola and Alcorn this week.

“It’s taken me a bit to get back in the flow of things after the injury, but we’ve also been putting up extra shots and extra work, getting back in the grind,” said Miller, who worked her way back from an offseason ankle injury. “The results have followed.”

Miller was one of four Lady Demons in double figures, joining Kira Bonner (14), Libba Gilliam (12) and RaVon Nero (11). Eight of the nine Lady Demons who played scored and all of them had at least five points.

Kaila Anthony led Loyola with a game-high 19 points.

Northwestern State returns to action Tuesday night when they face Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at Reed Green Coliseum.