Lady Demons' lockdown defense lifts NSU past Houston Baptist

Photo Source: Chris Reich (NSU)
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NATCHITOCHES, La (NSU) - In its four games prior to Thursday's Southland Conference women's basketball matchup against Houston Baptist, Northwestern State's offense was running crisply.

When the offense bogged down early Thursday night inside Prather Coliseum, the Lady Demons turned to their old standby – forcing turnovers – to make the difference.

Behind its swarming defense, Northwestern State stifled the visiting Huskies and pulled away for a 63-46 victory in the finale of a season-long, three-game homestand.

"They surprised us coming out and playing zone," third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. "Ninety-two percent of the time, they're playing man. We weren't able to force tempo because of how they lulled us to sleep. I told them at half, we needed to try to score 40 in the second half."

The Lady Demons (9-16, 4-10) just missed that number, settling for a 38-point second half that saw them hit 40.6 percent from the field after a first half in which NSU mustered an 11-for-36 (30.6 percent) shooting effort.

Thankfully for Northwestern State, its defense did an even bigger number on the visiting Huskies (7-16, 2-11). The Lady Demons limited HBU to 25 percent shooting in each of the first two quarters and held the Huskies to a 32.7-percent (18-for-55) night from the field.

Northwestern State entered the game allowing opponents to connect on 34.9 percent of their 3-point tries. Houston Baptist missed its first 11 3-pointers before Amanda Johnson (11 points) knocked down HBU's lone 3 with 5:52 to play.

Part of that was because of a swarming, trapping Lady Demons squad that forced 31 Huskies turnovers – 18 of which came after halftime.

NSU converted those 18 miscues into 20 points, part of an 18-point advantage in points off turnovers.

"We pressed well, rotated well, especially in the second half," said junior forward Victoria Miller, who collected her first career double eight days after scoring nine points and grabbing 11 rebounds against Lamar.

"Previously, we'd do good on our traps and not rotate out of it. Tonight you saw everyone flying around. Coach Jordan harped on effort at halftime, and we all picked up our effort in the second half."

In addition to her 10-point, 14-rebound double-double, Miller added a game-high four steals as the Lady Demons came away with 16 steals as a team.

No one turned defense into more offense than Jasmyn Johnson.

Like most everyone in the first half, Johnson scuffled from the field, hitting just 2 of 7 shots. In the second half, she found her form, connecting on 6 of 9 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, en route to a game-high 19 points.

"Most of the time, our defense gets us going," said Johnson, who added three steals. "Getting stops makes shots go down on the offensive end. When I see one go down, I know the rest are going to go down."

While Northwestern State's defense was solid for the entire 40 minutes, it was particularly impressive bridging the third and fourth quarters.

Following a Marilyn Nzoiwu layup with 2:48 to play in the third quarter, the Lady Demons did not allow a point in the next 6:33, eventually stretching their lead to 22 on a Jada Freeman free throw that put NSU up 53-31.

That gave the Lady Demons enough cushion to stave off a brief 7-0 HBU run that Johnson ended by beating the shot-clock buzzer with a 3-pointer at the 4:20 mark of the final quarter.

"The middle of the zone was wide open, and we didn't exploit it in the first half," Dupuy said. "In the second half, we attacked it and got to the rim. Jasmyn's shot the ball extremely well in practice the last couple of days, and I was confident in her taking those shots, especially in rhythm. You saw her production, 19 points in 20 minutes.

"For us, it always starts with our point guard up front, and Gabby (Bell) put a lot of pressure on their point guard. Our full-court, run-and-jump (press) was good all night. You have to give the ladies a lot of credit."

The Lady Demons return to action Wednesday when they start their final road trip of the season with a meeting at Incarnate Word. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. in San Antonio.