COMMERCE, Texas – For the second time this season, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team is on an extended win streak.
As the Demons head into Thursday’s 8 p.m. Southland Conference matchup at Texas A&M-Commerce, they do so as winners of their past six games – the second-longest run of positive outcomes for the 2022-23 NSU squad.
“It’s really hard to keep up with the win streaks in regard to how we handle our business,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “The most important thing to us is how we handle ourselves behind closed doors. We have to make sure we keep the poison out. When we hit a streak or hit our stride is when the poison starts to come in. That’s when people want to tell us we’re in first place. We didn’t have anybody telling us that when we were picked preseason No. 6. We didn’t have anybody telling us that.
“We didn’t have a player on the (preseason) all-conference team. Now they’re thing we may have a player or two who’s up for something. Now they want to tell us how good our players are. We keep a one-track mind in how we approach things. How we approached it before the season started is the same way we approach it now. What we do behind closed doors, what we do today, is the most important thing in our program.”
That singular focus has helped the Demons to a 16-8 start overall and an 8-3 Southland Conference mark, one that puts them in a three-way tie for first place with Southeastern and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Just behind the league-leading trio is Texas A&M-Commerce, which is 11-13 overall and 7-3 in league play in its first season at the Division I level. As travel partners, the Demons and Lions will face each other twice in a three-day span. The return game between the two is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Prather Coliseum.
Northwestern State has found success in quick-turnaround scenarios this season.
In non-conference play, the Demons bounced back from a two-point loss to Illinois State at home to go on the road and defeat the Redbirds five days later in Normal, Illinois. Northwestern State enjoyed a similar reversal of results after falling to McNeese in Lake Charles on Jan. 5 before rebounding to down the Cowboys on Jan. 12 in Prather.
In the past two weeks, the Demons have produced season sweeps of Houston Christian and Lamar in games that took place one week apart.
Although he has been a head coach for 24 games, Gipson has been able to draw on the COVID-19 pandemic-affected 2020-21 season in the Missouri Valley Conference when he was the associate head coach at Missouri State. That season saw the Missouri Valley schedule shift to conference games on back-to-back days against the same team.
“The back-to-back games were very tough, especially on the bigger people,” Gipson said. “It takes front-court guys more time to recover than the little people. When you’re carrying 260 or able and you’re 6-8 or above, you have different pains than little guys like myself. It was tough during that time, but you have to be mature in your approach, and your prehab, rehab and hydration has to be at a professional level.”
There have been similarities between the Demons’ win streaks while also being accomplished in different ways.
Northwestern State saw DeMarcus Sharp and Ja’Monta Black deliver three 30-point scoring games in the non-conference surge. Through NSU’s current six-game run, Black has delivered a pair of 31-point games – at Southeastern on Jan. 19 to start the run and against HCU on Jan. 26.
In the first surge, four Demons – Sharp, Black, Isaac Haney and Dayne Prim – averaged double-figure production. The same number, albeit a different combination, have topped 10 points per game for NSU in its conference run.
Sharp and Black have led the way again with Jalen Hampton and Emareyon McDonald have each added more than 10 points per game.
Hampton’s emergence has mirrored that of his fellow freshmen Greedy Williams and Hansel Enmanuel, who have outplayed their class standing as the Demons have climbed into a tie for the conference lead.
“From their standpoint, they went through what normal freshmen went through,” Gipson said. “It’s tough being a freshman at this level. It takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication. It takes a lot of commitment, and you have to learn how to be a very good follower.
“When you transition from high school, prep school or junior college to this level, most of the time, those guys were the leaders on their team. Now they go into the role of being a follower. They went through that phase. Then you have to learn the system. They went through that phase. Then you have to defend and rebound like we want. They went through that phase. Then you have to handle me and the staff, and that might be the toughest of all. They realize it’s all for development. It’s tough love, unconditional love.”
Thursday’s game will air on ESPN+ with free streaming audio available through www.NSUDemons.com and the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.