After knocking off one Southland Conference leader with a buzzer-beater at Nicholls this past week, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team prepares to welcome another league leader Wednesday when Stephen F. Austin steps into Prather Coliseum.
The 6:30 p.m. contest is an “Orange Out,” sponsored by Lott Oil. Fans are encouraged to wear orange, and the first 150 students to arrive at the game will receive a free “Orange Out” T-shirt.
The contest featuring two of the SLC’s top five teams in terms of conference record – the Lumberjacks (15-3, 6-1 SLC) are in first place while the Demons (7-9, 4-3 SLC) are in a tie for fifth – will be broadcast on FM 95.9 Kix Country.
The Demons didn’t play this past weekend after Chudier Bile’s 3-pointer at the buzzer helped erase a four-point Nicholls lead with 11 seconds remaining in a 73-72 win Wednesday.
NSU is off to its best start in league play in five seasons despite playing five of its first seven contests on the road, but coach Mike McConathy says he’s approaching the rivalry with SFA just like any other game.
“It’s a tough matchup, and a lot of people are excited about it, and we are too,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, who will coach at home for the first time since reaching his 300th win at NSU on Jan. 5 vs. Houston Baptist. “But it’s just the next conference game, and we always look at it that way.
“We can’t look at it as playing SFA or Sam Houston State or Nicholls. It’s the next opponent up, and we have to be ready for a battle.”
What the Demons are learning is not only how to win, but different ways to win.
The one-point win against Nicholls was NSU’s first victory in a game decided by five points or less and only the second such contest in which the Demons have played this season.
NSU is a much-improved rebounding team this season, but the Demons hammered the Colonels on the glass 55-27, the largest margin since 2016.
“Any road win is great, but when you can win in a different kind of way, it teaches you to win in adverse conditions,” McConathy said. “You’ve done that, and you can refer back to it if you’re in a similar situation and know that it can be done.
“That’s important because you play through the end of the clock when you know it’s possible.”
The Demons aren’t strangers to buzzer-beaters. Ishmael Lane had a tip-in at the buzzer to top Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas, this past season that was part of a series sweep of the Lumberjacks.
It’s NSU’s first sweep since 2007, and the Demons have won three of the past five matchups against SFA, breaking up an eight-game Lumberjack winning streak from 2014-17.
NSU translated early SLC success to the road as the Demons won two of three games in a three-game road stretch, but junior guard John Norvel will be happy to step back into Prather Coliseum, where the Demons play four of its next five games.
“We know we’ll get great support at home, and we know the students are going to be a big help,” said Norvel, who scored a season-high 10 points in key minutes in the Nicholls win as the Slidell native had a large family contingent. “It felt very good to come out and do that (at Nicholls), especially in front of my family.
“It was tough to play with the (ankle injury) because I have a chipped bone and a couple of sprained ligaments, but I had perseverance in rehab and treatment every day.”
Norvel and junior Jairus Roberson scored NSU’s first 22 points of the second half to help weather a scoring drought as the Demons kept Nicholls within striking distance. Roberson scored a career-high 24 points by making 5-of-6 3-point attempts.
Roberson is shooting better than 50 percent in his last six games and is an important factor in NSU warming up above 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s improving, and he’s more comfortable now than earlier this season,” McConathy said. “Now he understands he needs to get in the flow of things.
“He’s doing a great job of becoming a real threat, and by him loosening up from the outside, it’s going to help our interior game.”
SFA received national attention early this season when the Lumberjacks made a breakway layup to upset then-No. 1 Duke. SFA (6-1 SLC) has had a strong start to the league season, but NSU will be just the second team with a winning league record that the Lumberjacks have faced.
NSU continues its homestand Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana in a doubleheader starting with the women at 1 p.m. and the men at a 3:30 p.m. start for ESPN3/ESPN+.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services