LAKE CHARLES, La (NSU) The Northwestern State’s first visit to the new Health & Human Performance Complex signaled the end of a number of streaks the Lady Demons were all too happy to see end.
A strong first-half performance put Northwestern State in position before a brilliant second-half shooting exhibition brought home an 89-73 Southland Conference victory against McNeese on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m so proud of this group,” said third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy, who wore the same purple sweater, silver tie and gray slacks he did during Northwestern State’s most recent road victory. “It’s nothing to do with coaching. I’ve told them that all year. They made the change.”
The victory gave Northwestern State (8-14, 3-8) its first win in Lake Charles since 2010, its first conference road win since January 2017 and its first road win overall since December 2017. It also snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lady Demons and gave Northwestern State its first season sweep of the Cowgirls since 2010.
Northwestern State built an eight-point halftime lead that McNeese (5-16, 3-7) quickly erased in the first two-plus minutes of the second half. However, a five-person substitution set in motion an 8-0 Northwestern State burst that gave the Lady Demons the lead for good.
Gabby Bell started the surge with a 3 from the top of the key that was part of a blistering third quarter from 3-point range for both teams.
The Lady Demons sank 5 of 7 3s in the third, but McNeese kept things close by connecting on 4 of 5 long-range shots, part of a 7-for-8 stretch across the middle two quarters.
McNeese cut the Lady Demons’ lead to one late in the third before Jasmyn Johnson’s steal set up a second-chance jumper by Nautica Grant. Kira Bonner’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the quarter gave Northwestern State a six-point lead and the momentum.
“You’re never going to play mistake-free, but this was the best we’ve been all season about playing through mistakes,” Dupuy said. “You have to shake them off and go to the next play. The growth of this team has been making those mistakes and then making the next play. We did that better today than we have all year.”
It was the first road victory for the Lady Demons since defeating Louisiana-Monroe, 70-48, on Dec. 3, 2017. Prior to Saturday, Northwestern State had not picked up a Southland Conference victory away from Prather Coliseum since beating Incarnate Word, 76-74, on Jan. 5, 2017, a span of 22 games.
Northwestern State put itself in position to break those streaks with a strong start. In each of its two previous games – losses at Central Arkansas and at New Orleans – the Lady Demons opened with 9-2 runs before seeing the lead slip away.
The Lady Demons didn’t break quite as quickly from the gates Saturday, but they played more consistently for the full 20 minutes of the first half.
Buoyed by another high-scoring first quarter from RaVon Nero, who had nine of her 13 points in the opening frame, the Lady Demons held a three-point lead. Nero reached double figures for the sixth straight game, the longest streak of her career, and she had help from senior forward Leah Barnes.
Barnes already had equaled her season high of 10 points by halftime and had four first-half rebounds as the Lady Demons were plus-two on the glass in the opening 20 minutes. Northwestern State outrebounded McNeese, 33-30, after being outrebounded by seven in the Lady Demons’ 82-63 victory on Jan. 5 in Natchitoches.
Barnes finished with a career-high 15 points and grabbed a season-high eight rebounds. She was one of five Lady Demons in double figures, joining Bonner (17), Nautica Grant (15), Nero and Libba Gilliam (10).
“It was a mind-set,” said Barnes, who hit 6 of 8 shots and led NSU in rebounding. “I know I haven’t been doing well in past games. I told myself I was going to have a good game today, do my job, do the little things and get the job done.”
Grant scored 34 points in the first meeting between the teams, connecting on six 3-pointers in a career-best scoring performance. She had 12 of her 15 points and five of her game-high six assists in the second half Saturday, helping the Lady Demons shoot 69.6 percent (16-for-23) from the field in the final 20 minutes.
“We stayed aggressive,” Grant said. “Our defense got us going. I love getting my teammates involved first. I’m a team-oriented player first, and it felt good to get them involved and see them sinking shots.”
The Lady Demons produced assists on 21 of 30 field goals, forced 24 turnovers and played one of their best all-around games of the season to end a 22-game losing streak on the road.
“It feels really good,” Barnes said. “Now when we get on the bus, we won’t be have to be mad or sad.”
The Lady Demons return home to start a season-long, three-game homestand Wednesday night when they host Lamar. Tip off is set for 6:30 p.m. in Prather Coliseum.