Down the stretch of Saturday’s Southland Conference men’s basketball game, Northwestern State turned to a familiar face to keep its win streak alive.
DeMarcus Sharp provided bucket after bucket – and a timely assist – in the final minutes inside Prather Coliseum, lifting the Demons to a 72-64 win against Texas A&M-Commerce to sweep the season series with the Lions.
“This group has so much fortitude,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “They have fought so much throughout the season. Each week the brotherhood gets so much tighter. As a coaching staff, we’re so impressed with that. Sometimes, this time of year, the brotherhood can start to separate. People can go their own separate ways, because the rotations change. As the season has progressed, we’ve gotten so much tighter as a roster and as a staff.”
That much was evident in the first half as the Demons (18-8, 10-3) shook off a sluggish start in their second game with the Lions (11-15, 7-5) in a three-day stretch.
Sharp, who poured in a career-high 35 points Thursday night, played just 12 first-half minutes because of foul trouble yet Northwestern State held a six-point advantage at the break thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a vintage Jalen Hampton performance.
Hampton, a freshman from St. Louis, grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first half, giving the Demons opportunity after opportunity. He finished with nine offensive rebounds and 14 total, part of his fourth double-double of the season.
Behind Hampton, the Demons outrebounded Commerce, 37-29, less than 48 hours after being outrebounded by 12 by the Lions in Thursday’s matchup.
“They outrebounded us Thursday night, so coach put a big emphasis on rebounding,” said Hampton, who missed tying his career high in rebounds by one. “I just came out and made sure I did my job.”
Hampton wasn’t alone in taking care of business early Saturday afternoon.
With the Demons trailing by eight less than seven minutes into the game, Isaac Haney sparked a 16-4 run with eight points to put NSU ahead for the first time since Sharp’s step-back jumper opened the scoring 13 seconds into the game.
Haney finished with 14 points while adding a pair of steals despite picking up two fouls early in the game. The sophomore guard from West Plains, Missouri, finished a team-best plus-14 in a matchup where there was only one double-figure lead.
The Demons’ defense as a collective group stood tall after halftime, especially defending the 3-point line. Commerce hit just 1 of 10 3-point tries in the second half, which allowed the Demons to hold the lead for the final 25:33 of the game.
“Haney’s a defensive juggernaut,” Gipson said. “He’s stepped up and taken the lead in that role. We have guys who are all-stars in their roles. We have a group of guys, as a team, who defend well. We’re just thankful we have guys who have taken the lead on this roster and postponed immediate gratification.
“This time of the year, it’s hard to postpone immediate gratification. You have to have people step up and do the dirty things, the nasty things, the intangible things. We’re thankful for guys like Haney and the other guys on the roster who do that.”
Although the Demons led for the entire second half, the advantage only hit double figures once and stayed there for just 24 seconds.
The undaunted Lions answered Sharp’s jumper that put NSU up 57-47 with an 11-2 spurt to pull within one at the 5:12 mark.
That’s when Sharp found the wiring Gipson’s asks his point guard for, hitting three straight jumpers to extend NSU’s lead to five. After Commerce cut the lead back to one at 65-64, Sharp got a friendly roll on a short scoop shot before finding Hampton for the game-clinching three-point play.
It was just Sharp’s second assist of the game, but it was perfectly timed as his second-half scoring surge.
“I know Jalen’s going to cut, and at times I miss him,” Sharp said. “He always says, ‘You’ve got a thousand my bads a game.’ I love our relationship on the court and our chemistry. I always look to find him. At times, it can get frustrating not touching the ball that much, so I always try to look for my teammates. He cuts and he’s open, and I’m going to hit him.”
Sharp shared team-best scoring honors with Ja’Monta Black, whose trio of 3-pointers pushed his season total to 102, with 18 points while Hampton and Haney rounded out NSU’s double-figure-scoring quartet.
Demarcus Demonia paced Texas A&M-Commerce with 17 points.
The Demons return to action Thursday when they host Southeastern. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN+.