Steady defense leads to late surge as Lady Demons dump SLU

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NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU) - Because it never stopped defending, the Northwestern State women’s basketball team was able to defend its home court Saturday afternoon.

Photo Source: CHRIS REICH NSU

The Lady Demons’ best defensive performance of the Southland Conference season put them in position for their offense to deliver a late-game knockout of visiting Southeastern Louisiana, snapping a four-game losing streak with a 58-47 win against the Lady Lions in Prather Coliseum.

“We are at our best when we defend,” third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “I told them in the locker room our press back to our matchup zone was probably the most effective it’s been in a long time. We got stops. We were in great position to challenge and change shots. We rebounded out of it, and it led to easy offense, early offense.”

That early offense was most evident in the fourth quarter Saturday.

After Ashailee Brailey gave Southeastern Louisiana (8-10, 3-4) a four-point lead on a corner 3 with 1.6 seconds left in the third quarter, the Lady Demons (7-11, 2-5) buckled down and ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter.

Northwestern State allowed just four points in the final 10 minutes, holding the Lady Lions scoreless for a stretch of 7:08 in the final quarter. During that time, the Lady Demons turned a two-point deficit into a 13-point lead.

Celica Sterling’s layup with 7:32 to play gave Southeastern Louisiana its final lead of the game at 45-43. Less than two minutes later, Jada Freeman put Northwestern State ahead to stay.

Freeman missed a right-wing 3-pointer with 6:05 left in the game and NSU down two. After a Sterling turnover, Freeman found herself at virtually the same spot on the floor. Given a second chance, she didn’t miss, connecting on a wide-open, go-ahead 3 ball.

“I had it in my mind to make it for my team,” Freeman said. “We’ve been desperate for a win. The ball was in my hands, and I feel like those are the moments I relish the most.”

Freeman’s bucket seemed to relax the Lady Demons, who went without a field goal for more than 10 minutes for the second straight game. This time, a late offensive flurry helped them snap their longest losing streak of the season.

Beginning with Freeman’s 3, Northwestern State connected on six of its final nine shots. Prior to that stretch, the Lady Demons were 13-for-40 from the field.

On the ensuing possession, freshman RaVon Nero followed Freeman’s big shot with one of her own, connecting on a left-corner 3 that pushed the lead to four. Northwestern State attempted just eight 3-pointers, connecting on three.

Nero led the Lady Demons with 16 points as NSU’s lone double-figure scorer. Libba Gilliam shot 4 for 5 from the field, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds as the Lady Demons outrebounded SLU, 36-33.

“It started with our point guards Sami (Thomas) and Gabby (Bell),” said Nero, who had 12 of her team-high scoring total after halftime. “They got everybody going on the defensive end, and it turned into offense. When you’re knocking it down, the rim looks this big. My teammate, Jada, knocked one down, and that got everybody going.”

In addition to limiting the Lady Lions to four fourth-quarter points, NSU scored nine points off six fourth-quarter SLU turnovers.

Northwestern State forced 22 turnovers, just shy of its national-leading average of 25.76 per game. The Lady Demons turned those into 24 points, giving them a 10-point advantage over the Lady Lions in that category.

Southeastern Louisiana’s 47 points were the fewest allowed by the Lady Demons in Southland play this season and the fewest in a conference game since holding New Orleans to that same total on Jan. 31, 2018.

“We never stopped defending,” Dupuy said. “The press, picking our spots to jump and get turnovers or to contain and work the shot clock down, was huge. Putting Sami and Gabby at the top of the press was a great combination. We haven’t played it that much or worked on it that much, but it may have to be something we look at going forward.”

The Lady Demons close out their two-game conference homestand Wednesday when they host New Orleans. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. inside Prather Coliseum.