The Demons (14-6 overall, 8-2 in the Southland) and the Golden Eagles (14-8, 9-1) are at the top of the league standings along with Stephen F. Austin (18-2, 9-1), who hosts ORU Saturday night. Oral Roberts rallied past NSU 80-74 on Jan. 10 in Tulsa, but was beaten on its homecourt two nights later by SFA.
Spicing the NSU-ORU collision is the annual Chili Cook-off, with about a dozen chefs competing for the prized paddle while fans can have all-you-can-enjoy servings for $3 between the women’s and men’s games in the doubleheader, which tips with the Lady Demons’ contest at 5:30.
The nightcap is the main course. Northwestern, with four straight wins, and Oral Roberts, with six in a row, are the Southland’s two hottest teams. Demons coach Mike McConathy doesn’t shy away from the importance of Thursday’s matchup.
“We’ve put ourselves into position where this is a huge game, looking at the standings. Everybody has eight conference games left, and a lot can happen, but as long as we win, we control our destiny,” he said. “We’re playing a talented, very well-coached team that beat us earlier and is playing extremely well now, so we’re looking forward to seeing if we can turn the tables on them in the rematch.”
There were 10 lead changes and eight ties in the first meeting, with Oral Roberts getting 25 points and 20 rebounds from senior center Damon Bell-Holter to lead four double-digit scorers. The Golden Eagles used an 11-2 run starting with 8:05 remaining to open the game’s biggest lead (11), and held off the Demons in the final three minutes.
McConathy wants a fast tempo, befitting the Demons’ nationally No. 1-ranked offense (83.8 points per game), to reverse the outcome.
“We have to really push the ball offensively. At times up there, we pushed it as well as we have all year, but down the stretch we weren’t able to sustain it and that’s to their credit. We need to get up quality shots as quickly as possible. We are averaging more possessions per game (78.2) than any team in the country, and Thursday night we need to have that pace,” he said.
With this contest and a Saturday afternoon full-throttle contest ahead against Central Arkansas, the second-highest scoring team in the Southland, among only four remaining home games for the Demons, McConathy is excited about the support his team is getting in Prather Coliseum.
“We’ve had great home crowds. The emotion that our fans have invested is awesome, and it makes a difference to our team and to the other team. The willingness of our crowd to be involved, and have great basketball awareness to pick us up when we need that and to get excited and get on their feet when we’re making plays, produces an environment in Prather Coliseum that leads to our success,” he said.
The Demons are 9-1 at home this season and 33-7 in Prather Coliseum over the past three years.