NATCHITOCHES -- Senior forward James Hulbin scored a game-high 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds remaining Saturday afternoon as Northwestern State scored the final 11 points to rally past visiting Stephen F. Austin 61-57, handing the Lumberjacks their first Southland Conference loss and only their second defeat in 18 games this season.
The outcome halted the nation's second-longest active win streak at 11. Stephen F. Austin (16-2 overall, 7-1 in the Southland) was one of only three remaining teams in the country (after Syracuse's loss earlier Saturday) with one defeat before the Demons' dramatic rally in front of 2,533 at Prather Coliseum.
The contest paired the nation's top scoring team (NSU, averaging 85 points) against the NCAA's top defensive squad (SFA, allowing only 49.4 per game). The Demons' 61 points matched their lowest output of the season and came on 37 percent shooting aim, including 4 of 21 on 3-pointers.
In a game with 15 lead changes and eight ties, Northwestern (12-6, 6-2) forced SFA into its second-worst turnover total of the season, 22, while picking off 14 steals, four by Jalan West. The Demons also blocked eight shots, two in the stretch run.
The Lumberjacks matched the biggest lead of the day at 57-50 before NSU started its comeback on a Shamir Davis layup with 2:14 to go after a blocked shot at the other end by Brison White. The Demons forced an SFA turnover on the next possession and Hulbin scored on a putback with 1:26 showing to cut the deficit to 57-54.
SFA missed a 1-and-1 free throw on its next chance, then West hit a rainbow 4-footer in traffic to draw the Demons within one point with a minute to go.
The Lumberjacks worked the shot clock down but NSU's DeQuan Hicks came up with a steal just ahead of the 35-second violation, with 24 seconds remaining. Hicks drove the right side of the lane and pitched out to Hulbin in the right corner in front of the Demon bench. The senior forward drained his third 3-pointer of the game to jolt NSU ahead 59-57.
After a timeout, SFA was only able to get off an off-balance baseline jumper that sailed over the rim and was snagged by Davis, who was fouled with half a second remaining. He sank two free throws for the final margin.
Hicks added 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Demons, who got 10 points and three assists along with the four steals by West. SFA had a pair of double-double performances, 11 points and 13 rebounds from Desmond Haymon and 10 points and 12 rebounds, all on the defensive end, by Taylor Smith.
The Demons were just 6-of-27 shooting in the second half until the final 2:14, when they made four of their last six. After going ahead 57-50, SFA had two shots blocked, missed the last-ditch bid for a tie, and turned it over three times as the Demons picked off a pair of steals.
The Lumberjacks wound up sinking 42 percent of their shots overall, and 4 of 11 on 3-pointers. Both teams were mediocre at the free throw line, NSU making 60 percent (15-25) and SFA only 54 percent (13-24).
SFA was 16-0 this year when leading with five minutes left.
"This says we're a very good basketball team. We played a very, very well-coached team that is having a great year and managed to scratch one out at the end. We showed great resolve to do the little things to give ourselves a chance to win," said 14th-year Demons coach Mike McConathy.
The veteran coach was pleased Northwestern prevailed in a relatively low-scoring game seemingly more suited for SFA's style than the faster pace preferred by the Demons.
"We have to do more than just score, and I think we did that today," said McConathy. "We created opportunities with our defense and with our backs to the wall, we made the plays to win against a quality opponent. I'm happy we were able to reward our fans for sticking with us all the way, and now we take a day to rest and we get to work on our game at Lamar. This is fun today, but it's only one win and we need to validate today's effort with how we play going forward."
Northwestern will play on the road twice next week, going to Lamar Thursday before a Super Bowl Sunday afternoon visit to rival McNeese State. The next home game for the Demons is Thursday, Feb. 7 against Oral Roberts.