HOUSTON – Halfway through the 18-game Southland Conference men’s basketball schedule, the Northwestern State Demons know they are not through growing.
At least, first-year coach Corey Gipson sees it that way.
“The first time we mentioned the growth plates to the guys, we were on the road at Southeastern Louisiana,” Gipson said. “Before the game started, we told the guys our growth plates were still open, and we had so much more room for growth. This team has a willingness to learn. They want to be taught. They want to be held accountable. When you have a group of guys like that, you really don’t know how high the ceiling is.”
The Demons (14-8, 6-3) are bumping against the ceiling of the Southland Conference as they travel to Houston to face Houston Christian (7-15, 4-5) in the first of a three-game road trip. Thursday’s game can be seen on ESPN+ and free streaming audio is available on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.
As the second half of Southland play arrives, NSU is a game back of league leader Southeastern, whom the Demons defeated 91-81 in overtime on Jan. 19. The Demons are part of a three-way tie behind the Lions but bring plenty of momentum with them on the road.
Northwestern State has won four straight games – two on the road and two at home – marking the Demons’ second run of at least four consecutive victories. Earlier this season, NSU ripped off a seven-game win streak from Nov. 14-Dec. 10.
In some ways, that run of success was counterproductive for the Demons as Gipson said the team lost a bit of its identity during it. With Northwestern State having won six of seven games since an 0-2 Southland start, there is an opportunity for the Demons to apply those lessons learned from the first run of success in Gipson’s debut season as a head coach.
“I was very moved in a way after the Lamar game,” Gipson said. “Disappointed because there were some phases of the game where we didn’t handle ourselves right. We have the ability to get multiple stops in a row during games. Sometimes, we start playing the scoreboard. We have to play the game within the game and play the game the right way. Once we start doing that consistently, as a coach, I can let my guard down a little bit.”
The growth plates Gipson speaks of have not been limited to a certain spot on the roster.
NSU’s tri-captains – seniors DeMarcus Sharp and Ja’Monta Black and sophomore Isaac Haney – have made strides equal to those of freshmen Jalen Hampton, Greedy Williams and Hansel Enmanuel.
Sharp’s were on display in Saturday’s win against Lamar as the 6-foot-3 Missouri State transfer collected his fourth double-double of the season, scoring 23 points and handing out a career-high 10 assists.
It was Northwestern State’s first points-assists double-double since CJ Jones’ 14-point, 10-assist performance against Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 16, 2019.
However, it was another counting stat Sharp recorded that reiterated to Gipson his team was on the right path heading into its penultimate road trip of the season.
“His growth plates are open as a leader and as a player,” Gipson said. “One thing we shared with him earlier in the season, we said, ‘Whenever DeMarcus Sharp takes a charge, that’s when we’re on championship road.’ He took a charge against Lamar. We’re on championship road now.”