Demons’ red-hot second half lifts NSU past SFA

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – The Northwestern State basketball team was bruised and bloodied Thursday night in its first visit to William R. Johnson Coliseum since January 2021.

The Demons took those punches and delivered a few of their own, extending their win streak to five games with a 102-96 victory at Stephen F. Austin.

“Our guys really allowed the defense to convert to offense,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “That’s something we really worked on. We’re starting to get into game shape now. The way we play defense, it can take your legs away from you, but we’re starting to go deeper into our bench. We’re able to get guys breathers and breaks, so guys are fresher on the offensive end.”

No one was as effective – fresh or not – down the stretch than Demon senior guard DeMarcus Sharp, who finished with a career-high 34 points, including a 16-for-17 performance at the line.

Sharp had 25 of his points in the second half, helping propel the Demons to a 71-point outburst in the second half. It was the most points in a half for a Northwestern State team since scoring 72 in the second half of a 111-92 win at Auburn on Nov. 15, 2013.

Northwestern State (6-2) hit 18 of its 20 shots from the field in the second half, including six of seven from 3-point range to erase what had become a 10-point SFA advantage at the 17:38 mark of the second half.

The Demons sank 12 straight shots at one point in the barrage that was sparked by a second-half awakening by Isaac Haney and the emergence of Reggie Hill.

“We’re tough,” said Sharp, who hit 8 of 16 shots from the field, including both his 3-point tries. “Coach tells us every day to come out and play as hard as we can, and we’ll end up on top.”

Haney, the Demons’ leading scorer entering the game, was held scoreless in the first half but sparked an early 12-2 second-half run with his first seven points of the game, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 45.

Haney later put NSU ahead to stay, snapping a 53-all tie with a straightahead 3-pointer that gave the Demons a lead they never relinquished.

Equally as key in the second-half surge was Hill, who had 14 of his career-high 17 points in the second half.

“I come into every game feeling comfortable,” said Hill, who added a career-best three steals. “This game just felt different. I felt like we had something to prove this game. In warmups, I felt good. Everything felt good. I felt like tonight was going to be a good night.”

The Lumberjacks (4-4) did not go quietly, staying nearly shot-for-shot with the Demons in a high-scoring second-half.

SFA shot 68 percent from the field, including 70 percent from 3-point range (7-for-10) in the second half, yet was outscored by eight in the final 20 minutes.

AJ Cajuste led the Lumberjacks with 27 points, including 4-for-5 shooting from 3-point range, but missed a key free throw with the Demons leading 94-90.

Following that possession, NSU freshman Jalen Hampton drew a foul on an offensive rebound and calmly sank two free throws to give the Demons a five-point lead.

From there, Sharp went to work at the free throw line, hitting six straight to finish the game and give the Demons their first 30-point scorer since Ishmael Lane’s 32-point performance against Central Arkansas on Feb. 11, 2017.

Sharp’s free throws also gave the Demons their first 100-point game on the road since scoring 100 at Central Arkansas on March 7, 2020.

Sharp, Hill and Haney (12) made up half of the Demons’ six double-figure scorers. Dayne Prim shook off a bloodied eyelid suffered at the 3:57 mark of the second half to finish with 12 points while Hampton and Ja’Monta Black each added 11.

“I feel teams are saying they’re looking for us, but we’re looking for you,” Sharp said. “We’re not hiding from anybody.”

The Demons return to action Sunday when they host Southern Miss in the back half of a doubleheader with the Lady Demons. The Demons and Golden Eagles tip at 3:30 p.m. on Faith and Family Night. Fans who mention their church at the door can secure a ticket for $5. Fans who bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate also can purchase a $5 ticket.