Demons have ‘unfinished business’ in SLC Tournament

The Northwestern State men’s basketball team produced its best Southland Conference finish in a decade this season.

That is not enough for the Demons, who nearly to a man say there is unfinished business awaiting them in the SLC Tournament.

“We set out to win the regular season, and that didn’t happen, but we have the tournament ahead of us,” said senior guard DeMarcus Sharp, the 2022-23 Southland Conference Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. “We’re going to handle business. I won’t say what the outcome will be, but we are going to take care of business.”

The second-seeded Demons (21-10) earned their first double bye in the tournament since capturing the tourney crown in 2013 and will face the winner of Monday night’s quarterfinal between No. 7 seed New Orleans and No. 3 seed Southeastern.

NSU swept the Lions in the season series, taking an overtime win in Hammond on Jan. 19 before scoring a four-point victory in Natchitoches on Feb. 16 – a win highlighted by Isaac Haney’s taking a game-sealing charge with 3.6 seconds remaining.

“One guy I want to commend on his defensive effort this season is Isaac Haney,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “He’s been our defensive catalyst, our defensive captain. He’s spearheaded us being the No. 1 scoring defense in the conference. I want to commend him on being our defensive player of the year here at Northwestern State University. “

The Demons held their opponents to fewer than 70 points in 10 of their 18 conference games, highlighted by a 68-48 win against Nicholls on Jan. 7 that marked the first time the Demons held a Division I opponent under 50 points since the 2005 Southland Conference Tournament title game.

Northwestern State’s defensive has traveled throughout the season, part of a reason the Demons have won 11 games away from Natchitoches – 10 true road games and a neutral-site victory.

“When we are in Natchitoches, we tend to be not as locked in as we are on the road,” Sharp said. “When we’re on the road, we are very poised. Every single one of us locks in and does what coach asks us to do on the road. That plays a big part. When we go to Lake Charles, I know we’ll be as locked in and poised as we have been all season.”

Added Haney: “Big credit to the coaching staff for the comfort they give us on the road. The guys behind the scenes – guys whose names you probably have never heard unless you’ve done your research – (graduate assistants) Kellen Haymon, Levi Woods, (director of player personnel) KC Henry do an amazing job of making sure we’re comfortable on the road. We have everything we need so we can relax and play the game we love.”

As one of the two teams to earn a double bye in the tournament – No. 1 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is the other – Northwestern State will not learn its semifinal opponent until less than 24 hours before Tuesday’s tip time.

Not knowing who they play until such a short time ahead does not seem to bother the Demons.

“We definitely feel like we are our toughest opponent, our best opponent,” second-team All-Southland Conference guard Ja’Monta Black said. “As long as we take care of ourselves, the outcome will take care of itself.”

Said Gipson: “We’ve got some unfinished business. These guys have been great in preparation as we head to Lake Charles. We’re looking forward to tipping that ball up in Lake Charles.”