Northwestern State’s basketball teams tipped off the season Tuesday night at Prather Coliseum.
Unofficially. Hundreds of supporters enjoyed an energetic hour of activities, including brief intrasquad games by the Demons and Lady Demons, and got a taste of what they’ll see in 2018-19.
For the NSU men, the season actually starts in a week, next Tuesday night, at home against Centenary in a rare volleyball-basketball doubleheader. The Lady Demon volleyball team plays its final regular-season home match at 5:30, followed a half-hour later by the Demons matching up with the Gents.
The Lady Demons begin their season on Friday, Nov. 9 at Arkansas, then open their home schedule Monday, Nov. 12 with a matinee performance in a noon contest against LeTourneau aimed at an audience of elementary and junior high students.
The annual NSU Basketball Tipoff Party introduced both teams to many of their most loyal fans, including all-time Demons’ great David Clark, who scored the first points in Prather Coliseum in a 1964 game and had a front-row seat Tuesday night.
The Lady Demons took the court first, with third-year coach Jordan Dupuy telling the crowd about the player next to him, and passing the microphone down the line. The audience got some personal insights into the young women representing NSU.
“It was fun,” said Dupuy, “and the girls ran with it. In a minute, everybody found out (sophomore guard) Jada (Freeman) is a fashionista, (junior guard) Gabby (Bell) does hair, and (junior forward) Jasmyn (Johnson) doesn’t eat vegetables.”
A relaxed intrasquad game over the next eight minutes gave fans a chance to check their rosters and watch newcomers Lacee Savage, Kira Bonner and RaVon Nero flash their games, while seeing senior point guard Sami Thomas back in front of an audience for the first time since a knee injury late in the 2017 season.
A few minutes later, Thomas showed she’s not lost her shooting touch, going to overtime before Johnson got red-hot to win the Lady Demons’ 3-point shooting contest.
When the NSU men lined up for introductions, opened by 20th-year coach Mike McConathy spotlighting senior first-team Preseason All-Southland center Ishmael Lane, they had a tough act to follow. The Demons quickly went player-to-player, sharing nicknames and hometowns of those next in line, until the last player recognized, junior college transfer LaTerrance Reed from Buffalo, N.Y., delivered the line of the night.
“I don’t have anybody to introduce, but that’s OK. These guys all are my brothers now,” said the former New York state prep star, drawing a collective sigh from the Lady Demons, the NSU dance line and cheerleaders, and fans around the arena in a drop-the-mic moment.
For all of the dunks in the men’s scrimmage and the dunk contest between Demons Brandon Hutton, Lane and winner DeAndre Love, the most impressive slams came from several of the youngest fans in the building.
A kids session featured boys and girls from preschool into elementary grades attacking a plastic goal, with players from both teams gathering around the rim to cheer.
The Purple Haze pep band was in midseason form, and uniquely able to play during the action in the scrimmages, to the delight of the players and crowd. NSU’s cheerleaders and the Purple Pizzazz dance line provided spirited performances that didn’t escape the notice of McConathy, who acknowledged them to the audience to wrap up the event.
“Our band and spirit groups work as hard at what they do as our players and coaches work at the game of basketball, and I want them to know, we truly do appreciate them,” he said. “When we’re playing games during the season, we don’t have the opportunity to step back and enjoy what they do, and being able to do that tonight was just another reason that we love having the Tipoff Party every year.”