While Northwestern State was ultimately seeking a win Sunday in a matchup with former Southland Conference foe Stephen F. Austin, the Demons gained everything but a victory as they erased three different double-digit deficits before the Lumberjacks overcame a late NSU lead in a 72-68 Demons loss.
NSU (1-6) played with confidence, something the Demons will need when they head to No. 12 Houston (5-1) for a Tuesday matchup at 7 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN+, or fans can catch Patrick Netherton on the radio broadcast (95.9 FM The River)
Houston is NSU’s first ranked opponent this season, but the Demons continue a difficult slate that already includes Oklahoma, Tulsa and SMU with future games against No. 6 Baylor, RV LSU and Texas A&M.
The seven guarantee games, which doesn’t include home contests against regional stalwarts like Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech, is among the most in the country.
“I told my guys that our schedule is as tough as any in the country,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, who returned to practice Wednesday and coached in his first game Sunday after missing the past two games with a positive COVID-19 test. “We get better because we play the best.
“We’ve got to understand that we have to compete like we did (Sunday) every day that we come out to play.”
NSU matched SFA’s intensity Sunday, crawling out of a 14-point, second-half hole with a 26-9 run largely sparked by the Demons’ second unit.
Sophomore guard Jalen King scored eight of his career-high 10 points in the run, coupled with 3-pointers from Emareyon McDonald and Jovan Zelenbaba to fuel the run.
Freshman post Kendal Coleman recorded team highs of 14 points and eight rebounds while facing another top post in SFA’s Gavin Kensmil, adding to the list of Oklahoma’s Tanner Groves and Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Lofton among others.
Houston offers 6-foot-8 Fabian White Jr., who averages 10 points and five rebounds per game while making more than one 3-pointer per game. White is the only Cougar on the roster from an 82-55 Houston win against NSU in 2018, although he didn’t play. Larry Owens and LaTerrance Reed both started for the Demons in that contest, combining for 10 points in the loss.
“I love challenges and playing against guys that will compete and be grinders like I am,” Coleman said. “It helps me out in the long run.
“We learned (Sunday) that if we always play hard, we can compete with anybody if we set our minds to it and make sure we give 100 percent. We didn’t really compete against ULM (on Nov. 22), but I felt like we competed really hard against SFA. We’ve got to carry that into Houston.”
NSU travels Monday to play on Tuesday, the third time this season that the Demons have either played on consecutive nights or will play with one day in between.
The Demons opened the season at Oklahoma before heading to Tulsa the next night. After playing Champion Christian to cap off that first week Saturday, NSU hit the road to SMU for a Monday matchup.
“We’re used to playing on that kind of a turnaround, so it’s nothing new for us,” Coleman added.
The Demons will see that type of schedule in SLC play as the league returned to Thursday-Saturday schedule this season. NSU had played Wednesday-Saturday for the past four seasons.
Houston presents perhaps a different type of challenge than the Demons have seen to date. The Cougars have two wins against then-ranked opponents (No. 23 Oregon and No. 25 Virginia), both by at least 18 points. Houston also counts Butler and Rice in its blowout category with its lone loss to Wisconsin.
The Cougars have held four of their six opponents to 52 points or less, forcing foes to shoot just 38 percent from the field while causing 16 turnovers per game.
NSU handled SFA’s pressure defense relatively well, but the Demons had critical turnovers among its 16 giveaways, which includes a steal and breakaway layup that handed SFA the lead for good with just 37 seconds remaining.
The Demons handled the ball extremely well in the early season, but NSU has had at least 16 turnovers in each of the past three games, which includes 25 against ULM.
NSU remains in the positive in assists to turnovers (110 to 104), which includes 21 assists on 28 baskets Sunday against SFA.
The Demons played three ranked opponents this past season, falling twice to No. 1 Gonzaga and opened the season with No. 14 Texas Tech. NSU did drop 61 second-half points in the second game against the Zags in a 95-78 loss.
McConathy does have one ranked win as the 2005-06 Demons shocked No. 3 seed Iowa (No. 15 in the national polls) in the NCAA Tournament by erasing a 17-point deficit in the final eight-and-a-half minutes.
He’s faced 26 ranked opponents in 23 seasons at NSU.
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
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