NATCHITOCHES -- – The young, short-handed Northwestern State basketball team has some deficiencies, but tenacity is not one of them.
The Demons faltered after halftime, then couldn’t complete two comeback bids fueled by defense and rebounding, falling 69-58 Saturday afternoon to Abilene Christian in a Southland Conference basketball contest at Prather Coliseum.
The Wildcats, held to 35.5 percent shooting aim in the first half, shot 54.5 percent afterward, outscoring the Demons 11-6 in the first four minutes, then using a decisive 11-4 burst over three minutes to get their lead up to 10 with 12:31 remaining.
NSU (3-13 overall, 0-5 in the Southland) got no closer than five points afterward. The Wildcats (12-7, 4-2) weathered two NSU surges in the final 10 minutes to prevail despite a 22-point, 17-rebound day from Demons’ junior center Ishmael Lane.
“They came out very efficiently in the first six minutes after halftime, when they were able to drive into the lane and find open shooters who knocked down their looks,” said Demons’ coach Mike McConathy. “It got us on our heels.”
NSU failed to find the bucket on seven 3-point tries after halftime, after making 3-of-8 in the first half. The Demons, the nation’s fifth-youngest team, hurt their own cause in the opening period with 50 percent (9-18) free throw aim, denying them a chance to pad a 30-28 halftime edge.
A shift to a zone defense stalled ACU midway through the second half, as NSU held the Wildcats at 53 points for 5:11. But the Demons didn’t make up enough ground, getting only within 53-47 and 54-49 in that pivotal stretch.
“We had five defensive stops in a row in the zone, but we had two turnovers in that stretch and didn’t fully capitalize,” said McConathy. “We cut a 12-point lead in half, but didn’t get all we should have out of that good defense and never did get back over the hump.”
NSU scored six straight, starting with a three-point play by Lane, to draw back within 64-58 with 1:57 left, but the visitors sank five of their last six free throws while the Demons suffered three turnovers.
“Sure, I’m disappointed, but our kids continue to be resilient and give us great effort,” said McConathy. “We’ve outrebounded our opponents three times in the last four conference games. We have to get more efficient offensively. We have to find a way to score, and it’s almost to the point where we’re trying too hard.”
The Demons were hampered by 21 turnovers, their most in the last four games, but did win the rebounding battle 37-34, getting 11 boards, five on the offensive end, by junior Malik Metoyer.
“I was tickled with the 17 rebounds by Ish and the 11 by Malik. That’s remarkable effort with great desire to win, and that’s one thing these guys are giving us every time out,” said McConathy.
Lane’s rebound total was the best in conference play by any Southland competitor so far this season. It was the most by a Demon since William Mosley snagged 17 six seasons ago against Central Arkansas.
NSU goes on the road twice next week, Wednesday at Sam Houston and Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana, before playing a pair of home games the following Wednesday and Saturday to wrap up January.