Late push carries Demons to upset of No. 15 TCU

ON THEIR WAY: Northwestern State players take the court after a timeout Monday night during the Demons’ upset at TCU. (Photo by JASON PUGH, Northwestern State)

By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal

FORT WORTH, Texas – The 16th lead change Monday night was the sweetest for the Northwestern State basketball team.

DeMarcus Sharp’s turnaround jumper with 1:14 stood as the ultimate go-ahead bucket for the Demons as they collected the second Top 25 victory in program history with a 64-63 win at No. 15 TCU inside Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena.

“We’ve got such a resilient group,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “I was emotional, not because of the win, but because we know how hard our guys work. It was very rewarding to see the hard work pay off, and it was very rewarding to see those guys stick together in times of adversity between the lines.”

After a back-and-forth first half that included 13 lead changes and five ties, the Horned Frogs (2-1) threw the first big punch of the second half, outscoring Northwestern State (2-2) 18-8 across the first 7:06 of the second half to build a game-high, 12-point lead.

Leaning on their veteran but new-to-NSU backcourt duo of Sharp and Ja’Monta Black, the Demons never backed down, providing longtime NSU fans with a sense of déjà vu.

Northwestern State’s victory Monday was its first against an Associated Press Top 25 team since defeating Iowa in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The score of that game against the Hawkeyes, who were the AP’s No. 15 team in the final regular-season poll? 64-63.

Black shot a blistering 7-for-8 in the second half, hitting five of his six 3-point tries, and finished with a game-high 25 points to establish a new NSU career high. Black’s point total was one off his overall college high of 26 points, set in a Missouri State win against Little Rock on Dec. 21, 2020.

“I honestly feel like I’m always in the zone, but it was a different type of zone that second half,” said Black, whose final 3 tied the game at 61 with 3:33 to play. “I just kept getting them up, as many as possible, because when I shoot it, I always think it’s going in. That’s my mindset.”

Sharp and Black combined to score 28 of the Demons’ 35 second-half points, but both deflected credit for the win to the presence of Jordan Wilmore, NSU’s 7-foot-3, 310-pound junior center.

After picking up four first-half fouls in 11:58 of playing time, Wilmore played foul-free for 8:04 of the second half, scoring three pivotal points and grabbing three rebounds.

Wilmore’s lone offensive carom set up a go-ahead free throw with 2:50 to play.

“There’s a lot of people who have doubted Jordan throughout his whole career,” Sharp said. “I’m glad he stayed locked in, stayed focused and ended up at Northwestern State with us. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wouldn’t want anyone else but big Jordan. I love big Jordan, and big Jordan will be even better down the line.”

The Demon defense, backed by Wilmore’s presence and a pivotal steal by Isaac Haney that set up Sharp’s game-winner, limited TCU to three field goals across the final 5:09 of the game, allowing NSU to erase a five-point deficit.

Haney’s third steal of the game came roughly three-and-a-half minutes of game time after Gipson pulled Black and Sharp aside during a media timeout and “got onto us about being tired,” Sharp said.

“We did have that conversation,” Gipson said. “Ja’Monta Black and DeMarcus Sharp are battle tested. The way they looked tonight is what we expect out of them. Those guys can do that consistently, but it’s taken some time for them to get in a rhythm.

“DeMarcus hasn’t played in a full year. We’re four games in. You can slowly but surely see the real DeMarcus Sharp, and you can slowly but surely see the real Ja’Monta Black. It’s a matter of time before some other guys start being the real version of their selves we see in practice.”

The Demons return to action Thursday when they travel to Normal, Illinois, to face Illinois State. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. for the back end of a home-and-home series with the Redbirds.

Contact Jason at pughj@nsula.edu