Northwestern State was a winner on and off the court Thursday night in the annual Fork Cancer game, raising more than $2,000 for St. Jude and coming away with a 73-60 win against Nicholls.
The Lady Demons (11-12, 4-8) shot over 50 percent from the field, had five players score in double figures for the first time in three seasons and outrebounded their opponent by 20 (45-25) for the first time in five years. Good basketball plays on a night that meant more than just basketball.
“It was all based off good basketball plays,” head coach Anna Nimz said. “It wasn’t selfish shots or taking forced shots, the ball turned sides of the court, they created extra possessions, executed plays and their focus is changing and some more maturity is happening more often.”
Midway through the quarter JaMiya Braxton came right off the bench and drained a 3-point shot from the right corner to provide the first spark for the Lady Demon offense. NSU scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the quarter, including another 3 from Braxton, to go ahead by 10.
NSU made four of its final five shots of the quarter for the 18-8 advantage. The offense was directly fueled by the tenacious first-quarter defense. The Lady Demons forces seven Nicholls’ turnovers and Jordan Tood matched her career high with three blocked shots in the quarter.
The hot finish carried over into the second as NSU extended the lead to 21-8 by scoring the first five points of the quarter, engineering a 13-4 run overall.
Sharna Ayres made back-to-back 3s to extend the lead to 17 and after a Candice Parramore layup, NSU scored eight points in less than a minute off the clock. Ayres finished the game with a career-high 11 points, getting nine in the second quarter on a trio of deep shots.
“It really took for me to just calm down and focus,” Ayres said. “My teammates found me and I was open so I just stayed confident in my shot and had to knock it down for them.”
Her third triple of the quarter near the midway point gave the Lady Demons a 20-point edge.
With Ayres knocking down shots from deep, Monette Bolden was able to find looks closer to the basket. She scored the final eight points of the half for NSU, nine total in the quarter, providing answers to a handful of Colonel buckets along the way. Her pair of free throws with five seconds left gave the Lady Demons a 42-24 half time lead.
The Lady Demons finished the first half shooting 55 percent from the field with 10 assists on 15 made shots.
“We’re learning how to play with each other,” Ayres said. “I know it’s the end of the season but we’re finally finding each other, knowing where the open looks are and hitting them. We’re making great passes and we’re finishing.”
After a quick start to the third quarter, making three of their first four shots, the Lady Demons went without a field goal for three and a half minutes before Parramore knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing to break the stretch.
The Colonels put together an 11-3 run after the shot to close the deficit down to 12 with just under two minutes remaining. That was as close as they would get however as Alecia Whyte slipped through for a layup and NSU scored the final four points of the period to go back up by 16.
Parramore finished the game with nine points in the fourth quarter to match her career high with 23, her fifth 20-point game of the season, converting on 8-of-17 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the line. Of the players that attempted five or more shots in the game for NSU, four shot better than 50 percent on the night.
“We’ve been doing a lot of shooting because we’ve had some struggles with that on the home court, but I think today we locked in,” Parramore said. “We stayed focused and really this whole week we’ve been focusing on shooting and just having confidence in ourselves. The coaches keep telling us to believe in our abilities and I think we’re showing that more and more.”
The win gives NSU its first season sweep over Nicholls since the 2010-11 season.
Parramore and Ayres were joined by Boldedn (14), Whyte (10) and Braxton (11) as the five to reach double digits in the game. Jordan Todd led all players with 10 rebounds and both Parramore and Whyte added five assists, career highs for both.
“It’s encouraging as long as we continue to add some minutes to every single game,” Nimz said. “If we can limit those turnovers, sure up those moments where we start to spiral and lose focus and stay the course, I think we’ll be a tough team to face in that first round of the tournament.”
Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services