NATCHITOCHES – A 14-point victory over LSU Shreveport Thursday night relieved Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy, who was apprehensive about a letdown after Monday night’s near-miss on an upset at Mississippi State.
The Demons’ rebounding margin, 57-32, left the veteran coach happily stunned.
“I can’t remember us ever getting 57 rebounds or beating anybody, let alone a good team, like that on the boards,” said McConathy.
NSU (3-4) had all five starters scoring in double figures, led by Zeek Woodley’s 16 points and a season-high 15 from Sabri Thompson.
Thompson, a 6-3 senior guard, narrowly missed his first career double-double with 9 rebounds. Senior forward Tra’von Joseph notched his fifth as he snatched a career-best 14 rebounds to go with 11 points and four assists.
Sophomore forward Malik Metoyer also had a career rebounding high with 10, adding two blocked shots in 17 minutes while making 5 of 6 free throws.
“Malik played three minutes Monday night and this was his response,” said McConathy. “That can earn him a lot more than three minutes. He was impressive. So was Sabri with 9 rebounds.”
Thompson, shaking off an early shooting slump by making 10 of 24 from 3-point range in the last four games, said his rebounding was by necessity.
“Coach said when you’re not doing certain things, you’ve got to do different things, and if I can help by rebounding better, that’s a matter of commitment,” he said. “I definitely feel more confident with my shot. I was struggling in the beginning, but it’s coming along.”
Junior point guard Devonte Hall barely missed his sixth career double-double, and first this year, by scoring a dozen points and handing out 9 assists. The Bossier City-Bossier product, who knows many of the LSUS players, was determined to deny their upset bid.
“It’s bragging rights,” he said, smiling. “I hate losing anyway, but when you know somebody you’re going against, it matters. For 40 minutes, we’re enemies, and then after the final buzzer I love ‘em again.”
The first half included seven lead changes and five ties until the Demons ended a miserable 1-for-16 shooting stretch by sinking 5 of their last 7 shots while opening a 38-27 halftime advantage. NSU also hit 5 of 7 beginning the second half and flew into a 51-31 lead, but the Pilots battled back within 62-56 with 9:37 to go.
“I was concerned. You don’t fool with teams that are talented offensively, and they are,” said McConathy. “We had some ebb and flow offensively and they had something to do with our rough patches. But we put our heads down and worked hard and got the lead back out there.”
A 13-4 burst over the next four minutes, launched by a three-point play from 10-point scorer Ishmael Lane and capped by a steal and slam from Woodley, lifted the Demons ahead 75-60. The Pilots got no closer than nine afterward.
LSUS got 22 points by Rashard Owens and Tyrell Springer scored 21, dealt 9 assists and made 5 steals. The NAIA’s 24th-ranked team, the Pilots (6-2) played the game as an exhibition, going without their top scorer, Cameron Bledscheid.
“Coach told us they were very good one-on-one players, so we had to sit down (defensively) and lock them up,” said Thompson. “We did that pretty well at times and it helped us win.”
NSU played for the fourth time in nine days. The Demons depart Prather Coliseum at 5:30 a.m. Friday to start their trip to El Paso for a Saturday night visit to UTEP.