STARKVILLE, Miss. – Northwestern State didn’t get the help the Demons needed to knock off Mississippi State Monday night.
In a game with nine ties and eight lead changes, the Bulldogs scored the last five points over the final 1:20 and escaped Humphrey Coliseum with a 65-59 victory over NSU.
The Demons didn’t get anyone to help Zeek Woodley shoulder their scoring load. The senior swingman poured in 28 points, taking over second all-time on the school career scoring list, but nobody else posted more than seven points.
And on a critical possession in the last 90 seconds, NSU didn’t get defensive help to prevent 6-7 freshman Mario Kegler’s drive from the perimeter for a vital dunk and a 62-59 lead.
“We got beat off the dribble and didn’t have the rotation behind to prevent a clear path to the basket,” said Demons coach Mike McConathy.
“That was a critical mistake when we couldn’t afford it. Their guy made us pay.”
Mississippi State (4-2) aggressively defended Woodley on the ensuing possession, not allowing him to get anywhere close to the 3-point line. His 27-foot try with 1:05 left was off and the Demons (2-4) never got another shot until the final seconds. The Bulldogs patiently worked 13-point scorer Aric Holman free underneath for a layup with 31 seconds to go, creating a two-possession lead.
NSU had the ball knocked away going to the basket, committing the last of its 19 turnovers, and State added an IJ Ready free throw to go up by six with 13 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs, the second-youngest team in the nation, rode Ready’s team-best totals of 14 points, six assists and five steals. His last basket was a dagger, a 3-pointer at the 2:06 mark staring at a depleted shot clock with State up 57-56.
“The biggest play was Reddy with the stepback 3. It was a heck of a play,” said McConathy. “That’s a four-year starter surrounded by a very
young team, stepping up and making the big shot his team had to have.”
The contest was all but even. NSU led for 17:25, State for 16:30, and it was tied for the remaining 6:05. The Demons were up 14-4 early. The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was the final score.
Yet, there were a couple of stark differences. Although NSU took a 33-31 rebounding edge, State held a 38-16 bulge in scoring in the paint, and a 26-13 advantage in points off turnovers.
Said McConathy: “They were big, and that was another decisive factor, our inability to score at the basket, especially in the closing minutes. They made our turnovers costly. We had 19 and they scored 26 points off them. We only got 13 points off their 13 turnovers. We didn’t score very much in transition, again partly because their bigs ran the floor and defended us very well.”
Woodley and Tra’von Joseph (NSU’s second-leading scorer with 7 points) each snagged 6 rebounds for the Demons, who for the first time in six outings, competed well for the entire 40 minutes.
“We made progress tonight and that’s good, but by no means do we walk out of here feeling good,” said McConathy. “We played a good game, our best so far, but we did not close the game well and we did not win.”
Woodley, who hit 8 of his first 10 shots, finished 10 for 19 with 5-for-9 aim on 3-pointers. His 24th point pushed him ahead of James Wyatt (1,874 points from 1965-69) for second on the Demons’ career list. Woodley now has 1,879 and needs 131 to top Billy Reynolds’ 2,009 from 1973-77.
“Woodley is terrific. He’s a big-time player who can score in so many ways,” said Ben Howland, the former Pitt and UCLA coach in his second year in charge in Starkville. “He plays within the team framework. He’s unselfish. He can play anywhere in the country.”
NSU played for the third time in six days. After getting home Tuesday to wrap up a six-day, 1,559-mile trip for two visits to Southeastern Conference foes, the Demons play host to LSU Shreveport Thursday night at 6:30 in Prather Coliseum.