COMMERCE, Texas – Two games and one team is what await Northwestern State this week as if faces Texas A&M-Commerce on Thursday in the first of two games between the new Southland Conference foes in the span of less than 48 hours.
The first game of the two-step with the Lions is set for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff on ESPN+ as the Lady Demons (9-12, 5-6) make their first trip to Commerce in program history. The game can also be heard via live streaming audio at www.nsudemons.com/watch.
To put it plainly, the road has not been kind to the Demons this season. After a second straight 0-2 road weekend, NSU has lost four straight conference road games and five overall. The lone win came as part of the Demons’ season-long three game winning streak at Nicholls on Jan. 14.
The road woes continue to baffle Nimz and the staff who return essentially the same team that won five out of six road games at one point a season ago.
“We do a good job of keeping things smooth on the road,” head coach Anna Nimz said. “We keep their schedules very similar with study hall and when we eat and pretty closed environment. So, it’s hard for us to really put a finger on why we’ve struggled on the road this year. We’re just not showing up ready to go from the jump.”
Early game scoring lulls have been costly for the Demons over the past four road contests. During that stretch NSU is averaging 21.0 points in the first half, a stark contrast to the second-half numbers that see the Demons having outscored their opponents with a 34.5 point average in the final 20 minutes of the game.
“We have to stay focused forward and continue to try and figure out what that key,” Nimz said. “The one thing we do know, and can control, is making sure that our effort is top priority, and understanding that effort is all-encompassing. Are we thinking the game, staying locked in, do we have vision and am I putting my best foot forward.”
The effort that has been more evident in the second half for the team has produced an individual 20-point scorer in each of the past four games for the Demons. Joelle Johnson set a new career-high with 22 at HCU and Jiselle Woodson nearly topped her career best with 23 at Lamar. They followed back-to-back 20-point outings from Candice Parramore that earned her a conference player of the week honor.
Each of their standout performances came in large part thanks to the effectiveness of the team as a whole on both sides of the ball and notable for the most recent 20-point outings, big second-half performances.
Johnson and Woodson each had 14 or more of their points in the second halves of those games.
NSU will look to start the game like it does the third quarter against a Lion team that has scuffled of late after winning the first six games in its inaugural year in the Southland. Commerce has lost three of its previous four games and are coming off a 75-67 home loss to McNeese, just the second home loss of the season and the first of the conference schedule.
The most glaring absence has been the loss of leading scorer and preseason all-conference player Dyani Robinson who was putting in 17.4 points per game, a mark that would lead the conference by more than a point per game.
Despite her absence over the past five games, the Lions still rank second in the league in scoring at 65.1 per game with a top four field goal percentage and second-best turnover rate in the league.
“Although they may be missing a couple of players you can see how others have stepped up and that’s a credit to the program and the philosophy they have there,” Nimz said. “They understand what it means to have each other’s back and so I think both games are going to be very competitive. We have to focus on us first and foremost and take care of our business.”
The uniqueness of facing the same team in such a short amount of time, in the final few weeks of the regular season, makes the first quarter of the first matchup that much more important for the Demons, especially since it comes on the road.
“At the end of the day, no matter if we play the same team five times in a row you have to show up five times ready to go,” Nimz said. “They’re Division II coming into Division I this year but what didn’t change is the fact that coach (Jason Burton) has a tremendous program. He has Division I talent no doubt and there’s a reason they are sitting near the top.”