Demons’ support system pivotal as NSU hosts Houston Christian

Following the Northwestern State men’s basketball team’s 2-0 road weekend at Southeastern and New Orleans, head coach Corey Gipson called two players in to show his appreciation for their efforts.

It was not Southland Conference Player of the Week Ja’Monta Black, who averaged 29.5 points, five rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in those wins. Nor did the group include DeMarcus Sharp, the Demons’ do-it-all point guard who averaged 27 points, 6.5 assists and three steals per game in the two victories.

Instead, Gipson made sure to express his gratitude to a pair of Demons who have logged a combined 26 minutes on the court this season.

“I met with Karlin Hardy and Harrison Black the other day just to let them know they are doing a phenomenal job with the scout team and their attention to detail and how they are progressing throughout the year as well as some other guys,” Gipson said. “I’ve been pleased with the maturation phase of all the guys in our program, and I look forward to them making another jump in the program.”

Those jumps have led the Demons (12-8, 4-3 Southland) to back-to-back conference wins as they prepare to host Houston Christian (7-13, 4-3) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the first of a two-game Southland Conference homestand. Thursday’s game will air on ESPN+.

Ahead of the Demons’ Jan. 19 matchup with Southeastern, Gipson implored Sharp to play more aggressively on the offensive end, and Sharp delivered.

Sharp’s rededication to an aggressive mind-set opened things up for Black, who sank 14 of 29 3-pointers in two games to pick up his second Southland Conference Player of the Week award this season. As two of the Demons’ tri-captains – along with Isaac Haney – Sharp and Black have been at the forefront of relaying Gipson’s message to their teammates.

That much has taken hold as the Demons – to a man – are engaged in the game regardless of their playing time.

“Take Cedric Garrett at Southeastern Louisiana,” Gipson said. “He was up cheering even before the shot came off Ja’Monta Black’s hand. He was waving his towel like a flag.”

Having an involved and engaged bench has helped the Demons play well away from Prather Coliseum, winning seven games away from Natchitoches, including six true road wins.

That attitude has been fostered up and down the lineup. When Sharp and Black exited NSU’s 88-65 win against New Orleans on Jan. 23 late in the second half, they were more than tuned into the waning moments of the season’s biggest win in terms of margin for the Demons.

As Northwestern State closed out the game, freshman Hansel Enmanuel came in and played the final two-plus minutes, handing off a nifty assist to set up Jordan Wilmore’s two-handed dunk before capping the game with a corner 3 in front of the Demons’ bench – the first long-range bucket of his career.

While Enmanuel’s rainbow from the corner approached the bucket, Sharp and Black were front and center waiting anxiously to see if Enmanuel would add a 3-pointer to his list of memorable moments. When the shot off a Haney assist swished through, Sharp and Black celebrated the moment just as their teammates did for Sharp’s game-winning shot against Southern Miss or any of Black’s 79 made 3-pointers thus far this season.

“We don’t have a player on the team who is more valuable than another,” Gipson said. “Sometimes the most valuable person may not even get in a particular game. DeMarcus and Ja’Monta jumped up because they were excited about him. It says a lot about Hansel for him to get in the game, and it wasn’t about him scoring. He was a servant and gave that ball to big Wilmore. Then Haney clicks the ball to Hansel for the 3-point shot from the corner pocket. It shows these guys don’t care who gets the credit or the points.”