NACOGDOCHES, Texas – After being outrebounded by an average of eight in its first three Southland Conference games, Northwestern State won by going to the boards Saturday evening at rival Stephen F. Austin.
The final rebound gave NSU a 44-37 advantage and a stirring triumph. Senior center Ishmael Lane’s 10th board of the game was a tip-in at the final buzzer for a 61-59 victory over the preseason conference favorites at SFA’s Johnson Coliseum.
The Demons’ four league games have each been decided in the final minute by a total of 13 points. Saturday’s win was forged on a 12-5 surge in the final five minutes, with 3-pointers by 16-point scorer DeAndre Love and Malik Metoyer keying the comeback.
Metoyer also drained a pair of pressure-packed free throws to give NSU its first lead in eight minutes 57-56 with 2:23 remaining. SFA (8-7, 1-2) tied the contest for the 10th time with 62 seconds left on two free throws by Kevon Harris, then the teams swapped empty possessions with the Lumberjacks’ Shannon Bogues missing a jumper with eight seconds left that was rebounded by Demon guard LaTerrance Reed.
NSU got the ball to freshman point guard Brian White, who pulled up from 12 feet in front of the Demons’ bench. His looping shot bounded off the rim, off the backboard, off to the right, when Lane sliced in between two Lumberjacks to tap the ball off the glass and in, squaring the visitors’ Southland record at 2-2 and raising NSU to 7-10 overall.
“(Assistant) Coach Bill Lewit preaches to our guys, ‘play through the horn.’ And we certainly did that with Ish getting the tip just in front of the final buzzer,” said Demons’ coach Mike McConathy.
“At the end of the game we had some incredible swings, got two big 3-pointers, and just fought like Demons,” he said. “We got down five points and bowed our necks. We had really good ball movement side-to-side and had several guys make winning plays.”
Lane, limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, scored nine points and had two blocked shots along with his third double-digit rebounding total in league play. Metoyer, who was averaging 1.5 points in 13 non-conference games, continued his Southland surge with nine points, three rebounds and two assists.
White scored eight and issued a game-best five assists. Love supplemented his scoring with a career-best seven rebounds, while Reed grabbed a season-high six.
After getting crushed on the boards 45-30 in Wednesday night’s 62-61 home loss to A&M-Corpus Christi, the Demons heard their coaches’ message in workouts Thursday and Friday.
“We worked extremely hard and that was reflected with the rebounding statistics,” said McConathy. “We emphasized it and the proof was in the pudding that they took coaching and understood how important that was, especially playing a team like SFA.”
The Demons controlled the first half, leading by as much as 11 while the Lumberjacks sank just 29 percent of their shots. But SFA rallied as NSU struggled in the early stages after halftime, missing four shots and committing six turnovers as the Lumberjacks erased a 35-26 halftime deficit.
“We did get bogged down offensively, but we found a way with excellent effort to work out of it,” said McConathy.
The Demons sank 15 of 19 free throws (79 percent), 10 percentage points better than average. They shot 37 percent from the floor, 38 percent (8-21) on 3-pointers, and overcame 23 turnovers, 12 more than they had averaged in their first three conference games.
“Any win is a big win, but a road win is huge. We’re fortunate that we’ve won here two of the last three years, and I don’t believe there’s anyone else who can say that,” he said.
NSU gets an open date next Wednesday, then goes to Abilene Christian next Saturday, and hosts Sam Houston State Jan. 23 at Prather Coliseum.