KATY, Texas – A memorable regular season rewarded the Northwestern State basketball team with a double bye into the semifinals of the Southland Conference Tournament, but Friday night at 7:30, advantages cease to exist for the Demons.
Northwestern (21-8) will take on either third-seeded Oral Roberts or fifth-seeded Sam Houston State in the second men's semifinal, available on ESPN3. ORU and Sam Houston played a Thursday night 7:30 quarterfinal after Sam Houston advanced with a first-round win Wednesday over Central Arkansas.
Friday night's semifinal survivors play Saturday night at 7:30 in the championship game on ESPN2, with the winner going to the NCAA Tournament.
The Demons posted their third 20-win season in the last nine years, and the 10th in 100 years of basketball at the school. Last Saturday during the program's Centennial Celebration, members of the All-Century Team and other returning letterwinners were introduced during NSU's 83-72 win over Sam Houston. The victory was the state-record 573rd for coach Mike McConathy, who was surrounded by former players and staff members, along with his current team, just after the final buzzer.
But last Saturday seems forever ago for the Demons.
"Now, we're 0-0," said senior point guard Shamir Davis, one of four Northwestern players honored on the All-Southland Conference Team announced Tuesday. "Survive and advance. Lose and go home. Nothing that happened before Friday night means anything."
To some degree, that might include the perceived advantage that the Demons and regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin got by earning free passes into the tournament semifinals, said McConathy.
"The biggest advantage in a tournament, my daddy told me a long time ago, is winning that first game. It puts wind in your sails," he said. "So whoever we're playing Friday night is a good basketball team, a confident team, a dangerous opponent.
"Hopefully our legs have a little more bounce, and as the game goes on, that could play in our favor," said McConathy. "But it comes down to playing well tipoff to final buzzer. The last couple of years we've had some disappointments and this year, we want to kick that door down and get through."
Northwestern has lost nailbiters to the eventual tournament champion each of the past two years in first-round contests, but has a 14-7 record in the event under McConathy, including six berths in the championship game and two wins, in 2001 and 2006.
The Demons split regular-season matchups with ORU, each team winning at home, with the Golden Eagles prevailing 80-74 in Tulsa Jan. 10 and NSU snatched up 21 steals Feb. 7 in an 85-73 triumph.
Along with last Saturday's victory over Sam Houston, Northwestern rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to beat the Bearkats 73-64 on Jan. 7 in Huntsville.
NSU leads the country with its 82.4 scoring average. Second-team All-SLC forward DeQuan Hicks, the league's Newcomer of the Year, has missed the last three games with an injured ankle. He is the team's top scorer with a 14.2 average and is 10th nationally with his 58.3 percent shooting aim.
Senior forward James Hulbin, also a second-team All-SLC choice, is next with a 12.5 scoring average and shares the team rebounding lead with Hicks at 5.9 per game. Hulbin is making 51.4 percent of his shots.
Davis, a third-team all-conference pick, scored 24 Saturday. The 6-0 senior guard has posted one point less than Hulbin and owns a 12.4 average.
Point guard Jalan West, the Southland Freshman of the Year and a member of the league's five-man All-Defensive Team, is contributing 10.4 points, 5.4 assists (44th nationally), 2.4 steals (14th nationally) and has a plus 2.9 assist-turnover ratio (10th nationally). He had 11 points, 12 assists and no turnovers in last Saturday's game.
Three other players -- Gary Roberson, Brison White and Gary Stewart -- have led NSU in scoring in at least one game this season.
The game will be broadcast on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches and including 92.1 KEZP FM in Shreveport and 99.9 KTEZ FM in Many. A free audio stream is available at the NSUDemons.com website.