NATCHITOCHES—Janelle Perez's 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left lifted the Northwestern State women's basketball team over preseason Southland Conference favorite and two-time defending champion McNeese State 64-62 Thursday night in the league opener for both teams.
NSU (5-6) got 19 points and 10 rebounds by Jasmine Upchurch while Keisha Lee added 16 points. Perez, a true freshman point guard, scored 12 and issued a career-high seven assists while making only one turnover.
"When Upchurch comes to play we have a chance to compete in every single game," said co-head coach Brooke Stoehr. "We are very proud of her effort tonight."
Perez's game-winner came from the right wing in front of the Lady Demon bench off a pass from Jasmine Bradley, sending the Prather Coliseum crowd of 1,413 into a frenzy. McNeese (5-7) called time and got a driving 8-footer from Ashlyn Baggett, a two-year all-conference selection, whose game-tying bid was off the mark at the buzzer
The Lady Demons led briefly at the start of the game and for only the final 4.5 seconds. They trailed by 10 late in the first half and were down by 58-50 with five minutes remaining.
Northwestern was behind 60-54 with 2:04 to play when Lee hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead in half. McNeese followed with a missed 3-pointer rebounded by Upchurch, who took a pass from Perez and sank a 14-footer with 1:11 to go moving the Lady Demons within 60-59.
"That's the thing we liked about her (Perez) when we brought her in," said Stoehr. "We love that killer instinct that she has and that never die mentality. She was the one that gave up McNeese's last score I told her to keep fighting and believing."
Baggett made it a 62-59 McNeese edge with a driving layup with 44 seconds to play.
Upchurch answered with a 14-foot jumper to move NSU back within one, 62-61 with 20 seconds to go. Caitlyn Baggett, also a two-year All-SLC pick, missed a 1-and-1 free throw with 16 seconds showing, and Upchurch rebounded. The Lady Demons didn't call time before Perez swished the decisive shot.
"We just keep believing in our kids," said Stoehr. "We're just so proud of them tonight."
The Lady Demons take on Lamar Saturday in Prather Coliseum at 1 o'clock before make a three-game road trip to Sam Houston, Oral Roberts, and Central Arkansas.