For the second straight game, Northwestern State was in an advantageous position around the seven-minute mark.
But the Demons went cold in the final minutes as McNeese scored 16 straight points to pull away for an 85-80 win Saturday. NSU has dropped three straight after its three-game winning streak.
NSU (7-19, 3-6 SLC) led McNeese 66-61 at the 6:36 mark after a Jovan Zelenbaba layup, but the Demons went scoreless for nearly six minutes during the Cowboys 16-0 run.
The Demons finished with a flurry, scoring nine points and forcing two turnovers in the final 42 seconds. NSU had a chance to cut the lead to one possession, but a missed front end free throw ended the comeback bid.
“This is going to sound strange but I told them how proud I was that they didn’t fold the tent when we had the bad stretch,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “That is a growth moment for the program.
“But when we were up five, there was a series of fouls and putbacks that McNeese had that basically tied the game up. McNeese did a great job switching things and made us play four small guys.”
The poor finish Saturday comes on the heels of two straight bad finishes. Houston Baptist scored the last 13 points of a 76-69 NSU loss after McNeese ended on an 18-8 run to win 93-84 on Feb. 5.
Down 66-61, McNeese’s Christian Shumate makes 2-4 free throws before Brendan Medley-Bacon completes a three-point play off the last miss for a five-point swing to tie the game.
That started McNeese’s 16-0 run, and 11 of McNeese’s final 19 points came from the line.
The Cowboys made 24-37 from the stripe compared to just 10-13 for NSU in a physical contest.
“We might be pressing too much trying to get back in games,” McConathy said. “We had some shots go in and out during that stretch.
“But we have to figure out how to get to the free-throw line more. A guy like Brian White drives to the hole a lot, but he’s only taken two free throws in conference play.”
Kendal Coleman led the Demons with 21 points on 7-11 shooting and 7-8 from the free-throw line (career high).
Coleman added eight rebounds in just 26 minutes because of foul trouble. The 20-point effort is his fifth this season.
“Kendal had a great night, and he continues to get better and better,” McConathy added.
Carvell Teasett added 13 points on 5-10 from the field and 3-5 from 3-point range. NSU made 9-27 from deep after early struggles (3-13).
McNeese’s Zach Scott scored 21 points with six rebounds and three steals to add to double-digit efforts from Medley-Bacon (14 points), Shumate (14) and Trae English (13).
NSU’s bench held a 35-14 edge with effective nights from Cedric Garrett (nine points), Larry Owens (eight points) and Emareyon McDonald (eight points).
LaTerrance Reed added two huge 3-pointers to cap an 11-0 run in which NSU snatched a 62-57 lead.
McNeese led by as many as nine points early in the second half before an 11-4 NSU run with four Owens points slashed the Cowboys’ edge to 53-51.
NSU did have 14 assists to 11 turnovers one game after committing 23 against HBU.
After a hotly contested first 15 minutes that featured 10 lead changes, McNeese charged ahead by ending the half on a 12-4 run to build a 42-35 lead.
With NSU’s Coleman and Owens on the bench in foul trouble, the Cowboys attacked the paint for the majority of the points in that run as five different players scored. McNeese held a 20-14 edge in points in the paint in the first half and finished up 32-28.
McNeese constructed a 21-14 lead earlier in the period before NSU’s second wave took charge.
Garrett and McDonald made 3-pointers and Coleman added four points during a 13-4 run to lead 27-25.
The Cowboys shot 52 percent in the half compared to just 41 percent for the Demons.
The Demons hit the road this coming week for the final time with games Thursday at UIW and Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services