Balanced Northwestern State gets first win against Champion Christian

Northwestern State weathered an early storm from Champion Christian before the Demons flooded the Tigers with a surge of their own in a 91-62 win Saturday at Prather Coliseum.

After Champion Christian (1-3) scored the first six points and made three 3-pointers to lead 9-4, NSU (1-2) put together a 21-4 run in which it scored 11 straight points.

Six different Demons scored during the run led by Kendal Coleman’s six points to build a 25-13 advantage.

Coleman recorded NSU’s first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds. It’s the first of three games in which he didn’t set a career high after scoring 19 against Oklahoma on 22 against Tulsa.

NSU used its size advantage down low, especially in the first half, to wear the Tigers down. The Demons outscored Champion Christian 62-24 in the paint and cashed in 31 points off the Tigers’ 23 turnovers.

That scoring balance occurred throughout the night as four Demons posted double-figure scoring and six scored at least eight points.

“We’ve spent the entire practice (Friday) cleaning up things offensively because I thought we played great defense at Tulsa, so we didn’t work on defense,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “We weren’t very effective until about 10 minutes left in the game, but we did force 23 turnovers and 13 steals.

“But I thought we had a lot of guys come in and contribute, and we had a lot of guys have great moments to build confidence. Jovan Zelenbaba relaxed a little bit tonight, and he was active.

NSU blistered the nets in the first half, making 61 percent from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-point range.

The Demons cranked up the defense at the tail end of the first half, creating offense from its defense as it closed the half on a 19-5 run to widen its four-point lead to 52-38.

The Demons finished 52 percent overall from the field and 7-of-22 from beyond the arc.

Joining Coleman in double figures was senior LaTerrance Reed (12 points), junior Brian White (11 points) and senior Larry Owens (10 points).

Freshman Emareyon McDonald contributed eight points (career-high) as did sophomore Jovan Zelenbaba, who scored his first points of the season.

“We battled in the two games in Oklahoma, and it felt good to come home and get a win against a tough Champion Christian team,” Reed said. “(McConathy) harped on getting stops at halftime after we went down low offensively in the first half, but in the second half, we had to put our stamp on the game defensively.

“I think defense can be a strength for us this year, and we did turn defense into offense tonight.”

But junior varsity guard Cooper Smith garnered the loudest cheers Saturday.

Smith scored five points in his first career college action, draining a 3-pointer and getting a fastbreak layup while being active on defense.

“I was pretty excited but I was pretty nervous as well,” said Smith, a Hornbeck product who is in his second season of junior varsity play. “When I checked in, there was a wave of emotions because it’s something that I’ve been working toward forever now.

“(Making the first shot) was relief. Everything I worked for, it feels like I achieved.”

Sophomores Zurabi Zhgenti (six rebounds) and Jalen King (five assists) led the team in their respective categories.

All 13 available Demons scored in Saturday’s win.

NSU will take another swing at an American Athletic Conference opponent when the Demons make a quick turnaround to head to SMU on Monday.

Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services