Northwestern State has finally reached the end of the road – at the least the end of its extended road trip.
The Demons (6-9, 3-3 Southland Conference) wrap up a three-game road swing Wednesday at Nicholls (11-6, 5-1 SLC), finishing a stretch of five of their first seven league games on the road.
Despite the long and winding road, NSU has an opportunity to move above .500 in league play with a win, setting itself up for a stretch run that includes eight of its last 13 games in Prather Coliseum.
“You’ve got to go win at home or on the road, but getting a win Wednesday would certainly help because I do feel like our guys have played with more confidence at home than in previous years,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “This team believes they can win in any game they go out and play.
“We need to go take care of business against a Nicholls team that is very formidable.”
NSU enters Wednesday game in a tie for sixth place with Lamar (9-8, 3-3 SLC), whom the Demons beat in Natchitoches in the opening weekend.
That formidable Colonels squad technically leads the SLC at 5-1, having more wins than Stephen F. Austin (4-1 SLC, 13-3 overall) and Abilene Christian (4-1 SLC, 9-7 overall).
Nicholls is on a four-game winning streak which included three road wins at Southeastern, Lamar and Sam Houston State.
While NSU has owned the all-time series (71-45) and in McConathy’s overall tenure (26-13), the Colonels have won the last four meetings between the programs.
Both squads feature a balanced offense attack in which seven Demons are averaging at least six points per game and six Colonels average at least eight points.
NSU junior Chudier Bile has consecutive double-doubles with a career-high 22 points and 12 rebounds in a win at UIW and 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in a loss at McNeese.
“(At UIW), I was just playing to my strength, getting downhill and playing as physical as possible to get to the foul line,” said Bile, who made 12 free throws including NSU’s final five points to hold off the Cardinals this past week. “When we rebound and crash the glass hard, our team is pretty good.
“We have a lot of guys stepping up when we’ve had injuries to (LaTerrance Reed, Brian White and Nikos Chougkaz), and (C.J. Jones and Trent Massner) have been our floor generals right now. We’re seeing the floor and getting people open, and a guy like Jovan Zelenbaba is coming on and making shots and playing defense.”
Nicholls senior Dexter McClanahan leads three Colonels in double figures with 15 points per game after redshirting this past season with a transfer from Savannah State.
Twelve Colonels transferred into Nicholls at some point in their careers.
One key aspect will be the discrepancy in turnovers.
Nicholls leads the nation with 188 steals this season and is fourth nationally with nearly 20 turnovers forced per game.
NSU doesn’t give up many steals, but the Demons do commit 17 turnovers per game.
“Nicholls has done an outstanding job, and they’ve been very successful at creating a lot of turnovers,” McConathy said. “They are very long and athletic.
“I’m thankful that our turnovers haven’t led to a lot of fast breaks for our opponents, but the reality is that we’re shooting about (seven fewer shots) per conference game than our opponents. When you don’t take as many shots, you’ll have less of a chance to win. So we’re working on footwork, passing and jump stopping to reduce the turnovers we’re making.”
McConathy added contesting shots and rebounding to the must-do list.
Wednesday will be NSU’s third game in seven days and fifth since Jan. 2, but the Demons won’t play Saturday and will be preparing for a visit from Stephen F. Austin on Jan. 22.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services