NATCHITOCHES -- Fouls, and the lack thereof, made the difference Wednesday night for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in its 62-61 Southland Conference basketball victory at Northwestern State.
The Islanders, given a midnight-hour reprieve by a Demons’ turnover, got the winning edge on two free throws by Kareem South with 7.7 seconds left. Then because AMCC had been whistled for only four second-half fouls, the visitors were able to commit one at no cost with 2.9 seconds left, halting NSU before point guard Brian White could pull up or pass for a potential game-winner.
Denied a 1-and-1 free throw chance, NSU inbounded to DeAndre Love, but his off-balance shot in traffic from eight feet away was deflected by AMCC’s Elijah Schmidt just before the final buzzer.
“They had fouls to give at the end in a very physical game, and that wound up being a decisive factor,” said Demons’ coach Mike McConathy. “DeAndre Love made a good attempt to get to the basket, but things went different ways. That’s all I can say.”
The Islanders (7-9 overall, 2-1 in the Southland Conference) were 12 of 19 on the free throw line while the Demons (6-10, 1-2) got just five attempts, making three. That was as glaring a difference as AMCC’s 45-30 rebounding advantage, including 24 offensive boards by the visitors.
“The most frustrating thing is they were out-toughing us for rebounds,” said McConathy. “They had 24 offensive rebounds. It was like they shot it up there and went and got it with two hands. We didn’t do that, although we talked about it coming into the game.”
After overcoming a 45-35 deficit with 14:49 remaining by going on an 18-3 run over five minutes, NSU maintained a slight advantage nearly the rest of the way.
South, who had a game-high 19 points, nailed his fourth 3-pointer with 2:01 left for a 58-all tie, then sank a jumper on AMCC’s next possession that moved the Islanders up 60-58 with 1:15 remaining.
Demon senior Ishmael Lane answered. He snatched an offensive rebound and twisted up a shot from the hip while being knocked down. It dropped for a tie, and so did his free throw, putting NSU ahead 61-60 with 48 seconds left.
South was off target on the ensuing possession and Lane yanked away what might have been a clinching rebound with 21 seconds left. But the Demons’ Vonte Ott was too high with a pass to the wing to the 5-foot-6 White, who leaped and caught it but stepped on the sideline with 14.2 seconds left.
Ott defended South well on the Islanders’ second chance, with the shot off the mark, but a foul was called on NSU’s Brandon Hutton, sending South to the line, where the 86 percent free throw shooter swished both tries to ultimately settle the outcome.
“We had it and threw it away,” said McConathy. “It’s about making winning plays, and that goes back to young players learning how to win close games. We’ve played three down to the wire and twice had late leads and didn’t hold on.
“It stings. You go back to every situation and realize if you made one play, it’s the difference. One possession wasted earlier in the game is just as costly as one at the end.
“Yet, we’re right there. Defensively we really competed. We executed and did what we needed to do, took an extremely well-coached team out of some of their stuff,” he said.
NSU held the visitors to 35 percent shooting aim. The Demons finished with 45.5 percent accuracy, 54 percent in the second half, when McConathy’s bench (aka “The Second Wave”) scored 25 of the team’s 36 points.
“We had some good moments, especially by the Second Wave after halftime. Brandon Hutton, Vonte Ott, Brian White, Malik Metoyer, Larry Owens, Jacob Guest, they were the ones who went on an 18-3 run,” he said.
I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but I am so excited about the effort. We’ve got to hold together, keep getting better and get through this. It’s the third of 18 conference games. We’ll be playing into the middle of March. The improvement level is going to be monstrous.
“Where are we? We’re a lot better than we were in December; than we were two weeks ago; than we were a week ago when we lost a close one to Nicholls,” said McConathy. “We’ve got to keep plugging along, keep working.”
Love’s 10 points led a balanced NSU boxscore. Guest scored nine. Lane had seven points and a game-best nine rebounds. NSU’s bench outscored their counterparts 29-13 in a game with five ties and seven lead changes.
AMCC’s Emmanuel Toney posted 15 points. He and South combined to go 6-of-11 on 3-pointers, 4-of-7 by South.
The Demons play their next two on the road against two of the league’s better teams, at Stephen F. Austin Saturday afternoon and at Abilene Christian the following Saturday. SFA fell 78-73 at Nicholls Wednesday night. The Colonels rallied past the Demons 78-72 a week earlier.
NSU is home again on Jan. 23 against the league’s only unbeaten team, Sam Houston State, which went to 2-0 Wednesday in conference play.