WACO, Texas – Five months ago, Northwestern State freshman Kendal Coleman laced up his sneakers and stepped onto a gym floor in Macedonia alongside Baylor’s L.J. Cryer and Zach Loveday.
Coleman played an international basketball tour with Athletes In Action in July as a young post player rapidly improving and looking to make his mark with the Demons before his second college basketball season.
The Shreveport native has morphed into NSU’s scoring and rebounder leader in his second season and will test his skills when he revisits his old Baylor friends when NSU (3-10) travels to No. 1 Baylor (11-0) for a Tuesday night tipoff.
The 7 p.m. game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and aired on 94.9 FM in Natchitoches.
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“It will be a special game because we had a really good time overseas, and we got really close,” Coleman said. “When I first got there, I didn’t really to them because we didn’t know each other.
“But on the court and off the court activities really made us close, so we’re cool with each other. This trip taught me to be a leader on and off the court and assert my dominance in the paint. I’m trying to develop into a good role player.”
Coleman is averaging 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while posting four straight double doubles, including the most recent this past week at Texas A&M with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
He’s performed at his highest level against NSU’s best opponents, averaging 16.7 points and eight rebounds in NSU’s six contests against Power Five or American Athletic Conference foes.
Coleman collected 16 points and 13 rebounds against then-No. 15 LSU and had his best scoring outputs at Tulsa (career-high 22 points), SMU (20 points) and Oklahoma (19 points).
“I think the summer tour was huge for his confidence because it’s an opportunity to go play with higher-level guys and allows you to size yourself up and where you are,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “If you’re this kind of player, which I think Kendal is, it gives you the drive that’s necessary to be one of those kind of players.
“It tells you, ‘Hey, I need to work on this to be that kind of guy.’ We’re blessed and fortunate to build those connections to where we can have guys go on these trips for the last eight years.”
McConathy has another connection to the Baylor program – director of basketball operations Bill Peterson.
Peterson, who coached the AIA team in North Macedonia, was a McConathy assistant at Bossier Parish Community College from 1997-99.
He served on the Baylor staff that won the national championship this past season, which is the third straight season in which NSU will play a reigning national champion or a team that reached the national championship in that season.
NSU played No. 1 Gonzaga twice this past season who played in the national championship game and Texas Tech in 2018-19, who played for a national championship in that season.
“When you have a connection like that, you tend to watch that program a little more than others,” McConathy said. “Baylor is so talented and does such a great job defensively.
“And when they play great defense, they have guys who can make shots at the other end. But you approach this game like any other and try to find chinks in their armor, of which there aren’t many. It’ll be a challenge but not one we haven’t faced before because this team has played the toughest schedule since I’ve been here and probably the toughest schedule in the nation this season.”
Those tough games, which include ranked opponents Houston and LSU who are top five in the latest NET rankings (Baylor is No. 1), also factor in four other top 100 foes in Oklahoma, Texas A&M, SMU and Louisiana Tech.
Senior center Larry Owens said mindset is key in these games.
“We have to compete no matter,” said Owens, who participated in a training camp in Waco before he played in an international tour in Belize with Sports Reach. “It’s all about our level of intensity, how we start from the beginning and play until the end.
“A lot of people might be scared to play a team because of the name on their jersey. But you have to realize that they put their clothes on the same way we do. If you go in scared, you’ll play scared. But if you go in thinking that those guys are just like me, you’ll compete at a higher intensity level and play better.”
The Demons do have certain successes upon which they can rely.
NSU challenged Texas A&M this past week, slicing the Aggies lead to eight points with seven minutes remaining.
The Demons trailed Oklahoma by just three at halftime and ended up outrebounding the Sooners in an 18-point loss.
NSU nearly knocked off Tulsa as they led with four minutes to go in an eventual seven-point loss.
Against a top-ranked opponent this past season, NSU dumped 61 second-half points in a 95-78 loss to then-No. 1 Gonzaga, the second of back-to-back contests against the Zags.
McConathy’s first game against a No. 1 came in 2004-05 when NSU pushed Illinois in an 18-point loss as two of McConathy’s three games against No. 1s have been decided by 18 points or less.
He said this Demon team is making progress and will be prepared for Southland Conference play.
“We’ve made some progress in the last two weeks starting with the LSU game because we rebounded well with them for 30 minutes and we handled their press – we just couldn’t make shots,” McConathy said. “We’re understanding what we can and can’t do, and where the shots need to come from and where they don’t.
“When we get production out of our shooting guards and forwards, we can be pretty good. Our point guards have produced and our centers have played pretty well, but we’ve struggled when we can’t get production out of our 2s, 3s and 4s.”
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services