KATY, Texas – Among the many pieces of wisdom that Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy soaked up from his father and mentor Johnny, was this gem.
“He used to tell me, ‘Son, you’ve got to beat them all to win it all,” the younger McConathy said.
That piece of advice comes in handy as the Demons (3-11) start the Southland Conference Tip-Off event Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who enters with the league’s best record at 11-3.
The 5 p.m. game will be played at the Merrell Center, which has hosted the Southland Conference postseason tournament since 2008. Tickets start at $15 and are good for the entire daily session, which is four games.
First-year coach Steve Lutz led the Islanders on an eight-game winning streak this season, although none of their wins have come against teams in the top 250 of the NCAA’s NET rankings. TAMU-CC’s best two wins have come against UT Rio Grande Valley, ranked 262.
The winner of Thursday’s contest will move into the winner’s bracket and play its two remaining games in the evening or night.
The loser will slide into the consolation bracket, which features morning/afternoon games for the rest of the event. These games do not count as conference games.
NSU is still searching for its first Division I win, but the Demons haven’t had many chances against “like opponents.”
Seven of NSU’s 11 losses have come against Power Five or American Athletic Conference members, which don’t include games against quality opponents like Louisiana Tech, ULM (twice) and Stephen F. Austin. NSU has played three of the top five teams in the NET (No. 1 Baylor, No. 3 Houston and No. 5 LSU) and seven total in the top 100.
“We’ll get another test with this Corpus team because they’ve had a phenomenal nonconference performance, and Lutz has done a phenomenal job,” McConathy said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us right from the very beginning, but we’ve seen about all you can see in our very tough nonconference schedule, the toughest I’ve ever played.
“It’ll help that we’re not seeing wings that are 6-foot-8 and quicker and stronger than you, so we’re facing opponents that look and play more like us.”
The Islanders have excelled at forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, averaging 20 points off 23 turnovers per game.
That area has been a major NSU focus as they’ve faced smothering pressure defense from the likes of Baylor, LSU and ULM among others.
The Demons struggled at times this season, allowing 18 points off their 15 turnovers per game.
But the reemergence of point guard Carvell Teasett, who has played the last five games, has created a three-headed beast at that position with junior Brian White and freshman Emareyon McDonald.
It also gives the Demons three ball handlers, which can appear in tandem with each other on the court, to decrease turnovers from pressure defense.
“What (Teasett’s) addition means is that he’s an extra guy who can make shots,” McConathy said. “It makes a lot of difference to have three point guards who can play because you can handle the ball better, and we’ve done a pretty good job against high-major teams.
“Brian is a good set up guy who can make a shot, Emareyon is playing a little better and passes and shoots well, and then you have Carvell who does a lot of things well.
“And if we can get into position defensively and offensively with guys who can defend and make shots, then you’ve got a pretty good cocktail mixed up.”
Teasett has been a huge offensive boost once he reacclimated to the college game, averaging 15 points in his last three games, two of which were at Texas A&M and at Baylor.
The second-year freshman drained six 3-pointers at Baylor as the Demons made 11 from long range, continuing a trend in which NSU is shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line in the last three games.
“I feel very comfortable right now, and my teammates are encouraging me to shoot, and then I can create for them and get them open shots as well,” Teasett said. “We’ve got lots of shooters, even bigs that can shoot and spread the floor like (Zurabi Zhgenti) and (Robert Chougkaz).
“Playing this nonconference schedule better prepares us for conference play, and this tournament will further show us where we’re at.”
McDonald is 7-11 from deep in the last three games and leads the team with 24 3-pointers on 41 percent shooting this season.
Defending the 3-pointer has proven difficult for TAMU-CC as they allow nine 3-pointers per game at a 33 percent shooting clip.
Senior guard LaTerrance Reed should benefit from attention being drawn by other shooters and posts like Kendal Coleman, who has five double doubles this season and is leading the team in scoring and rebounding (15 points and eight rebounds per game).
Reed, who has played in two SLC Tournaments in the Merrell Center, said getting a preview of the arena before the actual conference tournament is a plus.
“That’s a major deal especially for shooters like me,” said Reed, whose 15 made 3-pointers ranks second on the team. “You get a feel for the nets, floors, rims, and it’s always to good to get shots up in the Merrell Center before you go for postseason because you get a feel for what’s going on.
“Shoutout to the Southland Conference for putting on this event because no other conference is doing this, and it puts the league on the map early in the season. We can gauge where we’re at as a team, figure out what we’re good at and where we need work playing against a level playing field.”
McConathy will see if he can conjure up some of his March magic in January at the Merrell Center.
He has led NSU to seven SLC Tournament Championship games with three titles, including two title games and one championship since the tournament moved to the Merrell Center.
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
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