Northwestern State freshman Nikos Chougkaz didn’t mince words when describing the importance of Wednesday’s 73-69 win against Abilene Christian.
Chougkaz made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to seal the hard-fought Demons (9-12, 6-6 SLC) win, which snapped a three-game NSU home losing streak against a Wildcats’ team that entered fourth in the Southland Conference standings.
“Everyone is happy because this was a must win game. We had to win this game,” Chougkaz said. “I was struggling the whole game, missing free throws and 3-pointers. I had turnovers. But I stayed focus on the game, and I was always believing in myself.”
The lead changed hands 14 times, but NSU made a decisive 11-4 run to erase a three-point ACU lead and build a 69-65 lead of their own.
Chougkaz scored eight of his 10 points in that run, adding to his eight rebounds.
NSU coach Mike McConathy said he implored his team to match ACU’s effort and intensity Wednesday, and the Demons answered the bell.
“We talked to them about playing hard every play because ACU does that, and tonight, I think we didn’t take many plays off,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “ACU is a great team that went to the NCAA Tournament so this is an important win
“It was definitely a grind out win, and Nikos had taken great shots, and he finally dropped them in there when we needed them. He saved the best for last, and that’s quite alright.”
Junior Chudier Bile recorded his sixth double-double of the season by recording 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Bile made 8-of-10 free throws, including five in the final five minutes that helped protect NSU’s lead. The Demons made 16-of-24 from the line, holding an edge against ACU (12-16).
“It feels good because ACU is a really physical team, maybe the best win of the year,” Bile said. “ACU won the conference tournament last year, so we proved to ourselves that we can hang with the best teams in the conference.
“We played harder than in other games. Against (UCA), we didn’t play hard. We saw the difference tonight.”
The win vaults NSU into a three-way tie for sixth place with Central Arkansas (7-16, 6-6 SLC), and Lamar (12-11, 6-6 SLC).
The Demons slugged out a win against the Wildcats by forcing ACU to shoot just 36 percent from the field (25-69).
“I felt like we did a great job on recovering out on shooters and making sure we contested shots,” McConathy said. “We had a little trouble inside because they had 34 points in the paint.
“But I thought we mixed it up well and had guys get critical rebounds like Bile and Chougkaz. We still gave up too many rebounds (41-39), but we got key boards.”
NSU continues to lead the league in field goal percentage defense and lowered its number to under 39 percent after Wednesday’s win.
Seven Demons scored at least six points including eight each from Brian White and Jairus Roberson.
NSU shot 7-18 from 3-point range, including crucial shots by Gatdoar Kueth and John Norvel in the second half.
Four ACU players reached double figures – Joe Pleasant (16 points), Payten Ricks (14 points), Airion Simmons (10 points) and Clay Gayman.
The Demons head to Houston Baptist on Saturday after the Huskies have won its last two games to bring its win total to three. LISTEN LIVE to the game on 95.9 Kix Country at 7:00pm.
CREDIT: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services