NORMAL, Illinois – In order for the Northwestern State men’s basketball team to move forward following Monday’s upset of No. 15 TCU, it will look to its very recent past.
The Demons return to action Thursday night, facing Illinois State in a rematch of teams that met for the first time in either program’s history this past Saturday night in Natchitoches.
“This will be a good test, almost similar to the conference tournament,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “The reason why we schedule them is to play high-level games in order to expedite the growth of the program. We grew from (Saturday) night’s game. Now we’ve got to make subtle adjustments for the next one.
“Even during the regular season, you’ll see some teams twice in two weeks. This is going to be a learning tool for our guys once we hit the conference season. How fast can we adjust on the fly?”
The game will air on ESPN+. Free streaming audio will be available through www.NSUDemons.com and the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.
Illinois State (2-1) edged Northwestern State 69-67 in that first meeting. With the Southland Conference playing a true double round-robin conference schedule, the Redbirds are one of 10 teams the Demons (2-2) will see twice in the regular season.
NSU should enter the rematch with Illinois State in a different mind-set than from the first game.
Ahead of the initial meeting, the Demons were coming off a win against Division II Ouachita Baptist – a game the Tigers led for more than 20 minutes. This time, NSU comes in following the first true road victory against an Associated Press Top 25 team, having edged TCU 64-63 in Fort Worth.
Four games into the season, Gipson and his staff are seeing their top players round into form.
Demon guards DeMarcus Sharp and Ja’Monta Black had 28 of the Demons’ 35 second-half points against TCU, including Sharp’s game-winning bucket with 1:14 to play.
Sharp has produced consecutive NSU career highs in points against Illinois State (15) and TCU (19).
Sharp’s fellow Missouri State transfer, Ja’Monta Black, also notched an NSU career high with 25 points against the Horned Frogs, including a 7-for-13 shooting performance from 3-point range.
Black came to Northwestern State as Missouri State’s No. 8 all-time 3-point shooter with 158 career 3s. His seven 3-pointers Monday night equaled the total he made in NSU’s first three games.
While Black and the Demons connected on 58.3 percent of their second-half shots Monday night, it was an NSU trademark that kept it within striking distance.
The Demon defense allowed TCU just three field goals in the final 5:09, allowing NSU to erase a five-point deficit. While the Demons forced a season-low 10 turnover against the Horned Frogs, they held TCU to 35.6 percent shooting from the field, including a 2-for-21 mark from 3-point range.
“We pride ourselves on defense first,” Black said. “The offense is going to come. We won that game because we got stops and rebounded.”
Although the Demons did something no other NSU team had done in program history, they still saw room for improvement.
“We’ve got to go back and watch some film,” Gipson said. “There are so many things we can improve on from this game. We have to make sure we prepare, number one, for ourselves, and then we’ll move on to Illinois State.”
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services