NATCHITOCHES – Senior guard Sabri Thompson had the game of his life with 38 points. In the final minute, junior point guard Devonte Hall drained a huge 3-pointer, then sank four free throws. Senior forward Tra’von Joseph’s frenetic efforts produced a double-double in the second half alone.
All of which, they said, wasn’t nearly as satisfying as Northwestern State’s first Southland Conference victory, a comeback 86-81 triumph over early league pacesetter Nicholls, Thursday night in a boisterous Prather Coliseum.
NSU hadn’t discovered a winning combination in league play with leading scorer Zeek Woodley benched by a broken wrist and versatile forward Malik Metoyer out for the year (knee), both lost with only one non-conference game remaining. The Demons dropped their Southland opener in overtime, lost the second by four, then were soundly beaten last Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Yet there was no sign of panic, just ample evidence of determination on display even during a choppy first-half outing against the Colonels. Persistence paid off with a 50-point second half.
“We definitely needed that,” said Thompson. “Standing 0-3, against a team that was up among the conference leaders, a team that has a lot of good players, that’s definitely good for our confidence.”
“Honestly, I’m tired of losing. I know my team is tired of losing. I keep thinking about what more I can do to help us win,” said Hall, who scored seven of his eight points in the last minute.
The Demons trailed by 13 in the second half, then charged ahead and survived four more lead changes, the last with 1:56 left on a 15-footer by sophomore center Ishmael Lane. Hall’s 3-pointer came in front of the NSU bench, with 56 seconds left, as the shot clock was about to evaporate, and lifted the Demons ahead 80-76.
“A huge, huge shot,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy.
Four Hall free throws, sandwiched around two from Thompson, kept the Demons (7-8 overall, 1-3 in the Southland) on top despite 38.5 percent overall shooting and 17 turnovers.
“We were able to be resilient enough to overcome the mistakes we made and the shots we missed,” said McConathy.
Hall said the victory was rooted in NSU’s ensemble playing rotation.
“Tonight was more mental than anything, and I thought we handled the adversity very well. Guys really stepped up tonight, some you can see in the box score like Peewee (Joseph), Sabri, and others like Bailey (Walker), Jacob (Guest), Jordan (Bell), Tanner (Hamilton). Everybody did a tremendous job. We kept our composure and showed our maturity.”
Thompson said his coach’s confidence in the Demons was well-founded.
“Coach Mike has told us this is one of his best teams when it comes to fighting back against adversity. We knew we were close, and this was our time.”
McConathy’s faith in his plucky team was validated by the outcome and how it came about.
“Great gut-check. We’re 0-3, coming in here against a very talented, extremely well coached team, and we were able to come back from 13 down, get the lead, withstand their comeback to regain the lead, and be very tough in the closing minutes, making the plays to win.”
Thompson, on the heels of a slump-busting 23-point outing (21 after halftime) last Saturday at A&M-Corpus Christi, scored 16 of NSU’s first 21 Thursday night against the Colonels (9-8, 2-2). He finished 7 of 14 from 3-point range, 10-21 overall and sank 11 of 12 free throws while posting the biggest scoring total for NSU since Zeek Woodley’s 39 early last season against LSU Alexandria.
“I hit the shots, but a lot of plays that go unnoticed by a lot of different guys were equally important to us,” said Thompson. “They also did a great job of finding me when I was hot.”
The Demons exploded on a 17-1 run over 4 ½ minutes, surging from a 51-41 deficit into a 58-52 lead. A one-handed follow slam by Joseph coupled with two Thompson treys and his four free throws to fuel the rally.
The Colonels battled back to lead twice more, but never by more than one possession. Joseph, who got all his 14 points and all but one of his 13 rebounds in the second half, led the effort which produced a crucial 47-39 rebounding advantage by NSU.
“Coach told us to come out in the second half with aggressiveness, and that’s what we did,” said Joseph, who also had a team-high 5 assists. “We crashed the offensive glass, Sabri hit some big 3s for us, and we all pulled together.”
NSU played at home for the first time this month. The Demons’ only remaining Prather Coliseum appearance is Saturday afternoon at 3 against preseason Southland favorite Sam Houston State.