Northwestern State taking confidence built at home on the road Thursday to HBU

Tip-off: 7 p.m.
Radio: 95.9FM, Kix Country about 6:45 p.m.

HOUSTON – Winning can have the power of reinforcing positives that were happening before said winning was taking place.

That’s one way Northwestern State is viewing is pair of home Southland Conference victories this past week as the Demons (6-16, 2-3 SLC) attempt to extend their winning streak on the road Thursday at Houston Baptist (6-12, 2-3 SLC).

The 7 p.m. contest can be streamed on ESPN+ or can be heard on 95.9 FM Kix Country and on or on the NSU app.

The Demons started league play with road losses at Southeastern, Nicholls and New Orleans, who have a combined SLC record of 11-4.

But NSU could point to plenty of positive trends in those losses, trends that took centerstage in big home wins against Incarnate Word and a 16-win Texas A&M-Corpus Christi squad this past week.

“The main thing is that we’re showing up and playing, we had been doing that, but now we realized that doing these certain things actually impacts games and leads to wins,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “(Before last week), we hadn’t found the confidence level to be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing some things right and here are those results from it.

“We were doing a lot of things right, but we weren’t having positive results, so they couldn’t visually see or understand it.”

One of those reversing trends includes finishing games in which NSU was in position to win.

The Demons pieced together runs of 27-9 against UIW and 20-8 against the Islanders late in games to pull away to nine- and 14-point wins, respectively.

These late-game finishes came after NSU lost a double-digit second-half lead at Southeastern, were outscored late by UNO twice in losses including having three shots on the final possession to win a Jan. 8 contest, and were outscored 17-6 at Nicholls that broke open a tie game.

For that trend to reverse, NSU needed contributions from a variety of players, not just the headliners.

Junior Robert Chougkaz sunk two 3-pointers, each that handed NSU back the lead, in the second half against UIW.

It was sophomore Jovan Zelenbaba’s 3-point stroke against TAMU-CC (2-2) that supplied second-half juice.

Sophomore Cedric Garrett dropped 14 points against UIW, and five of his eight points vs. TAMU-CC came from the free-throw line in the closing minutes of a performance in which NSU shot 20-25 as a team.

“It’s not about who starts or finishes games … it’s really about which part of the game each guy excels in most,” McConathy said. “Some guys can come in, and you can figure out what they’ve got early.

“Some guys come in and can give you a shot in the arm off the bench. Guys like (Garrett, Zelenbaba, LaTerrance Reed) can come in the game and make a difference. A guy like freshman Shaun Riley is having an impact after watching for about the first three months of the season. Chougkaz is making shots, but he’s also playing as hard as he possibly can. When he runs, he puts pressure on defenses or is getting back in defensive transition and forcing difficult shots over his 7-foot wingspan.”

Garrett said a team of six newcomers with other returners playing larger-than-normal roles is coming together for the stretch run of the season.

Garrett started the first 18 games of the season, but coming off the bench has breathed life back into his season as he’s averaged more than 10 points in his four games after reaching double figures in two of his previous 11 games before that.

“Coming off the bench allows to build on what the starters have already done, and I keep the hot run going,” Garrett said. “Or if we start a little slow, I can be the fresh legs and come in and make shots.

“I like coming off the bench, and it feels like I have a little more confidence because I’m already warm, have been looking at the game and can see what the opponent is doing. It gives me more insight in what I need to do.”

The Houston native is playing his fifth game this season in his hometown after a trip to a ranked Cougars’ squad and a three-game spree in Katy for the SLC Tip-Off event.

“It’ll be nice to play in front of family and friends, and I have little nieces and nephews that’ll be there,” Garrett said. “I’ve got to show out because they look up to me.”

The Huskies started league play 2-1, including a win at TAMU-CC. But HBU has dropped its last two games (both at home) to UNO and Nicholls in games in which they’ve averaged just 63 points and shot 35 percent.

The contest will feature two of the conference’s best posts in Coleman (15 points, 9.3 rebounds) and HBU’s Darius Lee (15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds).

Coleman has double doubles in five of the seven SLC foes he’s faced, and Lee has scored at least 18 points in six of seven contests against SLC opponents.

NSU has won three of the last four meetings in the series, and the Demons could be poised for one of McConathy’s patented winning streaks in conference play.

The Demons won six straight this past season and had separate streaks of four wins and four out of five in 2019-20.

For that to take place, NSU will have to produce its first true road win of the season as the Demons are 0-11 in true road games (not including 1-3 in neutral site contests).

Despite NSU’s 0-3 start to league play, the Demons are just one game out of second place as six of the league’s eight teams are either 3-2 or 2-3. UNO (5-0) has built an early lead in the league standings.