When Northwestern State hosts longtime rival UL Monroe Tuesday night at 6:30 in Prather Coliseum, the Demons will try to carry over the best elements of their overtime win last Friday and avoid damaging lulls that have been an early-season impediment.
NSU (2-4) aims for its third straight homecourt victory this season, and third consecutive triumph over ULM (2-3) in the 124th meeting of a series dating back to 1951. The Demons won 68-64 two years ago in Bossier City and in their best overall performance last season, surprised the Warhawks 76-61 in Monroe.
More pertinently, Northwestern is riding the momentum of a comeback 70-66 overtime victory in Prather Coliseum Friday night over Alabama A&M. The game followed an inverted script that had played out in the Demons’ four previous games, at SMU, BYU, Rice and Houston.
“We are growing together as a team, and there are so many pieces still fitting into place,” said 20th-year head coach Mike McConathy. “Our play had been consistent and solid in the first half, but lacking after halftime. Then last Friday it was horrendous in the first half and we fought back to win afterward. We’ve got to bring everything together and play two good halves.
“We’ve got to be consistent, be more disciplined, make shots. Our effort’s been good. We have too much ball-watching from the rebounding perspective. Turnovers are down. We’ve got to shoot better from the free throw line as well as the perimeter. But we’re doing some nice things.”
NSU entered Friday’s game shooting 40 percent overall, but managed just 31 percent in the first half while starting a miserable night behind the 3-point arc. The Demons sank 35 percent in their first five outings, but only 4 of 24 against the Bulldogs. Making only 12 turnovers and forcing 22 was a key factor in overcoming a 47-34 rebounding gap and overcoming a 10-point deficit to win.
McConathy was gratified to see his “under construction” team pull together and overcome its own struggles against a well-coached opponent to prevail.
“One it’s a win, but two, we found a way to win. This team has to learn how to win because of its makeup, with some new pieces from all over and young players who are showing improvement in their second year with us. To see how we won that one was very important for our opportunity to grow as a team,” he said.
Senior forward/center Ishmael Lane had a clinching 3-pointer with nine seconds left in overtime, posting a team-high 18 points. He is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, while senior guard DeAndre Love is scoring 11.5 per game. He had the go-ahead basket with 1:22 to go Friday and got an offensive rebound with 37 seconds remaining to set up Lane’s decisive trey.
Sophomore walk-on guard John Norvel is exceeding expectations with a 9.0 scoring average and 44 percent 3-point aim.
Two likely NSU starters, sophomores C.J. Jones (Wossman) and Larry Owens (Carroll) are graduates of Monroe high schools. Jones’ father Casey was a steady point guard for one of ULM’s NCAA Tournament teams in the mid-1980s.
“For Larry and C.J., whose dad was a very good player there, this game is obviously an exciting opportunity. There’s no doubt that the outcome will be discussed when they go home for Christmas,” said McConathy. “That’s what makes games like this so fun, and we appreciate the chance to play them.”
ULM has an exceptional player in senior forward Travis Munnings, who has averages of 14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Wichita State transfer Daishon Smith tops the Warhawks in scoring with 17.0 per game in two contests.
After Tuesday’s contest, the Demons travel to play at Texas-El Paso Saturday night and visit Texas A&M next Monday. They play Southern on Saturday, Dec. 15 in the Shreveport-Bossier Holiday Classic, but do not play again in Prather Coliseum until Dec. 18 against Louisiana College.