Demons travel to McNeese for first SLC road tilt

LAKE CHARLES – Throughout the Northwestern State men’s basketball team’s non-conference schedule, first-year head coach Corey Gipson often discussed how the slate expedited the growth of the program.

The Demons certainly made strides on the road, winning five of their nine non-league games away from Prather Coliseum – four of which were true road wins.

As Northwestern State prepares for its first Southland Conference road game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at McNeese, the Demons are not focused on what they did away from Prather Coliseum this season.

Instead, they have a more singular on-court focus.

“The biggest adjustment we have to make is fouling,” Gipson said. “We have to really, finally, get a grip on the fouling. We’re not getting to the foul line and other teams are getting to the foul line. It’s not like we have to make major adjustments, but the charity stripe is one adjustment we have to make moving forward.”

Entering Thursday’s game, the Demons (8-6, 0-1) have attempted 110 fewer free throws than their opponents and have been outscored at the line by 103 points.

Northwestern State is averaging 14.8 free throw attempts per game, the second-fewest among Southland Conference teams. Conversely, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which edged the Demons in the SLC opener for both teams on Dec. 31, makes 14.6 free throws per game.

In its first 14 games, Northwestern State has attempted single-digit free throws five times.

The Islanders hit 21 free throws in the win against the Demons, who attempted just nine free throws in the game. That advantage helped Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the defending Southland tournament champion, keep the Demons at bay.

While the Islanders were the preseason conference favorite, the Demons’ 8-2 start drew plenty of attention, including pushing NSU as high as No. 18 in the Mid-Major Top 25.

It also helped teach the Demons a key lesson as they prepare for a McNeese (4-10, 1-0) team that opened conference play with a 19-point road win at Lamar.

“We really never worry about the opponent,” Gipson said. “Anybody we play, there’s a bull’s-eye on our back. We received a great deal of recognition in the early going. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot.

“It was good to see the expression from Corpus Christi after the outcome of the game. That lets us know we have a bull’s-eye on our back. When you have that bull’s-eye on your back, that lets you know you have to have an approach to make a stand in regard to how you’re viewed among your peers.”

For Gipson, that approach starts with a focus on eliminating fouls, no matter the locale.

“I don’t care if we play on Mars, we have to stop fouling and we’ve got to keep people off the charity stripe,” he said.

Thursday’s game can be seen on ESPN+. Free streaming audio is available on and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.