Defense can win a lot of games and Northwestern State proved that on Saturday in a 67-58 win against Nicholls.
The Lady Demons (5-8, 1-2) forced seven fourth-quarter turnovers and held Nicholls (3-11, 0-3) scoreless for a nearly seven-minute stretch in the first half and the final two minutes of the game to secure its first Southland Conference win of the season.
The Lady Demons searched for offensive consistency through the first several minutes of the game, falling victim to the turnover plagued that cost them in the fourth quarter two days ago at McNeese.
Nicholls was able to take advantage of the looseness with the ball to take a 17-9 lead with its quick 7-0 run near the midpoint of the first quarter.
Just as quickly as Nicholls made its run, the Lady Demons provided an answer after Jiselle Woodson broke a two minutes scoreless stretch with a pair of free throws. She drained an open 3-pointer from the left wing after an offensive rebound to spark the 7-0 NSU run to finish the quarter.
Joelle Johnson cut through the left side of the defense for a layup with two seconds remaining and the first of back-to-back buckets for the senior transfer who opened the second-quarter scoring with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Woodson and Johnson’s baskets set the Demons offense off on a 22-4 run across the span of nearly 10 minutes of game time that saw NSU regain the lead. Beyond the obvious conversions and good shots on the offensive end, the run was fueled by two main things – defense and ball security.
After six giveaways in the first quarter, NSU had just one turnover during the long run where it scored on three of its first four possessions of the second quarter. Combined with the in-your-face man defense on the other end that forced multiple long Colonel possessions and highly contested shots, NSU moved ahead by as much as 10 with 2:49 remaining (31-21).
The Colonels were able to close the gap with a quick six-point burst before Shelby Rayner nearly completed 2-for-1 finish for the Demons offense with a late 3-pointer from the corner and a jumper in the lane at the buzzer that just rimmed out.
Both teams came out of the locker room ready to shoot in the second half with a frantic start where they combined to go 9-for-18 from the field through the first six minutes of the quarter.
The Colonels stayed in the zone at the end of the quarter, engineering a late 10-1 run allowing them to pull within a pair of the Lady Demons with 90 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Bengisu Alper, who finished with a career high 14 points, stretched the lead back to five with an answering 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 50-45. Nicholls though scored the final five points of the quarter, capitalizing on an offensive rebound to even things at 50 on a buzzer-beater just inside the arc.
The Lady Demons were undeterred by the late Colonel momentum thanks to a pair of quick buckets for Woodson to start the fourth quarter. A drive and finish on the first possession and a 3-pointer on the next gave NSU the lead it would not relinquish.
The formula that beat NSU just two days ago at McNeese worked for NSU on Saturday. The Lady Demons scored 11 fourth-quarter points as a result of seven Colonel turnovers. The dagger when Sharna Ayres swiped a skip pass and fed Alecia Whyte for a layup on the other end to give the Demons the 64-58 lead with just over two minutes to go.
NSU locked the Colonels down over the final two minutes without allowing a point to secure their first conference win of the season and their third straight against the Colonels.
Four players finished in double digits for the Demons led by Alper and Johnson’s 14. Woodson and Whyte each provided 10 in the game and Johnson just missed her first double-double with a team-best nine rebounds.