Demons head to SFA after three straight nailbiters

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NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Northwestern State’s first three Southland Conference basketball games have all come down to the final minute.

Another intense contest could unfold Saturday afternoon when the Demons visit rival Stephen F. Austin in a 4:30 matchup at Johnson Coliseum.

The Demons (6-10 overall, 1-2 in the Southland) will be on the road for the first time in six games. They opened Southland play last Wednesday with a 78-72 loss to Nicholls, failing to hold a four-point lead in the stretch run, then evened their league record with a 66-61 comeback victory over McNeese last Saturday. Wednesday night, they couldn’t hold onto a one-point edge in the final half minute and fell 62-61 to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

The Lumberjacks (8-6, 1-1), the preseason league favorite, fell at Nicholls 78-73 Wednesday night. They opened a week earlier with a come-from-behind 65-60 homecourt win over defending Southland champion Southeastern Louisiana.

The matchup follows a 2 p.m. women’s contest between the schools. SFA will produce ESPN3 coverage of the doubleheader.

Wednesday’s defeat was NSU’s first loss when holding the opponent at or below the Demons’ 66-point scoring average. It came despite one of the Demons’ better shooting performances, 45.5 percent overall including 54 percent in the second half when NSU rallied from a 10-point deficit.

But AMCC controlled the boards, outrebounding their hosts 45-30, and limited NSU to a season-low five three throw attempts.

“If we had been more aggressive rebounding the basketball, we probably would have gotten to the line a lot more,” said 20th-year head coach Mike McConathy. “We did a lot of things pretty well but rebounding wasn’t one of them.”

The Demons are getting 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds from senior Ishmael Lane, whose nine rebounds Wednesday night included two key ones at either end in the final minute. The offensive rebound triggered his three-point play that lifted NSU up 61-60 with 48 seconds left. Then he snatched a missed AMCC shot with 21 seconds remaining, but the Demons turned it over moving upcourt and the Islanders notched the winning points on a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds to go.

Lane’s backup, sophomore Larry Owens, is averaging 4.0 rebounds but no other Demon is better than 3.3 per game.

In Southland games, Lane’s averages rise to 12.7 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Jacob Guest is surging in league play with a 9.7 scoring average built on 64 percent shooting, including 9 of 12 on 3-pointers. True freshman point guard Brian White is scoring 8.7 points per game in conference action while averaging 3.3 assists and just 1.3 turnovers.

The Lumberjacks have two of the league’s top scorers, preseason all-conference picks Shannon Bogues (17.1) and Kevon Harris (15.4), who scored 30 at Nicholls.

Two years ago, NSU ended SFA’s 45-game homecourt Southland winning streak with a 72-67 victory in Johnson Coliseum but last year, as the personnel-depleted Demons stumbled to a 4-25 record, they absorbed their worst-ever Southland loss, 97-50, at SFA.

NSU and SFA have represented the Southland in eight of the last 17 NCAA Tournaments, with the Lumberjacks going to March Madness last season for the fifth time.

The contest can be heard  through the Demon Sports Network with Patrick Netherton calling the action. Audio of the broadcast and live statistics are also available at www.NSUDemons.com/watch or through the new Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded through either the Apple Store or Google Play.

Following Saturday’s game, the Demons have a week off, getting an open date next Wednesday before traveling to Abilene Christian next Saturday. NSU is home again Jan. 23 against league-leading Sam Houston State.