There really has been no place like home this season for Northwestern State as it picked up its fifth straight win inside Prather Coliseum on Saturday afternoon with a 71-66 final against Texas A&M-Commerce.
“There’s some magic here for us this year for sure,” head coach Anna Nimz said. “The fans, the cheerleaders, band, everybody’s bringing it. But we challenged the girls after Thursday’s game to be about what we talk about. I thought they played a great game for 40 minutes, started quick, followed the game keys and the scout, and excelled at it.”
The Lady Demons (10-13, 6-7) earned their fifth straight home with from the free throw line in the first half, an offensive clinic in the third quarter and some more clutch shots down the stretch.
NSU’s emphasis on rebounding after Thursday’s game in Commerce was evident from the opening tip. Thanks to a 7-3 advantage on the glass through the first five minutes of the game, the Lady Demons were able to hold the Lions without a point until the 4:48 mark of the first quarter.
Commerce missed its first six field goals of the game but only trailed by six midway through the quarter, seemingly flipping the switch to finish the first quarter 6-for-7 from the field, go on a 10-0 run and hold a 14-11 lead going into the second.
For a near 10-minute stretch the Lions appeared on their way to another runaway win against the Demons, building their largest lead of the game of 26-15 with 5:59 left in the first half, as the Demons shot 22 percent from the field in the first half.
NSU free throw shooting however was a much different story.
The Demons, and especially Candice Parramore, exploited the Lions spread out defense and their desire to limit the 3-point shot. Parramore drew six fouls in the second quarter alone and shot a total of 13 free throws, knocking down 11 of them.
Parramore scored 11 straight points for NSU, nine coming from the stripe, that turned a double-digit deficit into a four-point game. The defense held Commerce without a field goal for the final four minutes of the half, and Parramore added two more late freebies with 39 second left that made it a 31-30 Lion lead at halftime.
“Coach pointed out the gaps in their defense and how big they were and told us to keep attacking them,” she said. “I saw the refs were making the calls so it was an opportunity to take advantage of it and we did.”
After missing the first 11 shots from beyond the arc in the game, the Demons nearly could not miss from deep in the third quarter. NSU went 5-for-10 from deep in the third including a stretch of three straight that put the Demons ahead. Parramore hit the first two and Sharna Ayres made it a 43-40 NSU lead with her first of the game.
“Coach (Mike) Brown says all the time there are two important times in the game and the beginning of the third quarter is one of them,” Parramore said. “We’ve been challenging ourselves to keep the momentum going and I think that’s what we did.”
From the time of Parramore first triple to the end of the quarter, the Demons outscored the Lions 18-6, taking an 11-point lead into the fourth on Alper’s 3-point buzzer beater to cap a 25-13 third-quarter scoring effort.
The Demons shot 58 percent from the field in the quarter and 50 percent from deep.
Commerce quickly cut the lead down to two possessions with a 7-2 run to start the fourth quarter. NSU went more than three minutes without a point when Jasmin Dixon knocked down a 15-foot jumper from the right elbow to push the lead back to eight.
The Lions made two more runs at a comeback getting within one shot on two different occasions, but Parramore made clutch free throws with two minutes to go and Jiselle Woodson, reminiscent of her game-winner against Lamar, drove to the basket for a critical layup with one minute left that made it a 67-62 game.
“Everybody was able to hit the crucial shot today,” Nimz said. “On Thursday we were missing those two-foot easy ones and not staying locked in to hit them. They found those again today and we were connecting on them. They played great team basketball in the third quarter and got those needed shot to fall down the stretch.”
Parramore finished with a career-high 26 points, getting a career-high 13 of them from the free throw line. Four other players finished with eight or more points.