It was a 30-30 afternoon for the Northwestern State women’s basketball team Saturday inside Prather Coliseum.
The Lady Demons turned to their nation’s best turnover defense and rode Nautica Grant’s career-best scoring game to an 82-63 win against visiting Southland Conference rival McNeese, snapping a four-game losing streak against the Cowgirls.
“Nautica was huge,” third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “Anytime someone has a night like that, you have to give a lot of people credit. Our point guards did a great job of setting things up for her. We made sure we found the hot hand. We screened for her. Every shot she took was in rhythm, within the offense. We know what she can do.”
Grant torched the Cowgirls (2-11, 0-2) for 22 first-half points, sinking 5 of 7 3-pointers as the Lady Demons (6-7, 1-1) built a 19-point halftime advantage.
Grant capped a strong first quarter for the Lady Demons with a 3-pointer and opened the second quarter with another 3. After missing her third 3-point try, Grant sank three straight from beyond the arc, allowing her to tie her career high for made 3s In a game.
“It’s all thanks to my teammates,” Grant said. “They set screens, got me open and got me the ball. All credit goes to them.”
Grant finished with a career-high 34 points, topping the 27-point explosion she had at McNeese on Dec. 30, 2017. She added a third-quarter 3-pointer to set a new career high in that category as well.
As the Cowgirls slowed Grant and the Northwestern State offense in the second half, the Lady Demons continued to hound McNeese defensively and finished with 33 forced turnovers. It marked the fourth time this season Northwestern State has forced at least 30 turnovers in a game.
The Lady Demons entered Saturday’s game leading the country with an average of 26.8 forced turnovers per game. Following Saturday, that total jumped to 27.3.
“It was good to get off to a good start, because that’s been our bug-a-boo for most of the year,” Dupuy said. “We got stops early, and our pressure worked. We controlled the game for the most part, but you have to give McNeese credit for getting back into it and making it a game.”
Trailing by as many as 23, McNeese sliced the lead to nine on a Callie Maddox (15 points) layup with 5:45 to play. The Cowgirls flummoxed the Lady Demons offensively in the final quarter, but a turnaround game at the free-throw line allowed Northwestern State to even its conference record after two games.
Damilola Balogun sparked the comeback with 13 of her team-high 16 points coming in the second half. Balogun, Maddox and Regan Bolton (11) reached double figures for the Cowgirls.
Kira Bonner had 11 points to join Grant in double figures for the Lady Demons.
Despite not scoring from the field for an 11-plus minute span that crossed the third and fourth quarters, Northwestern State did tremendous work at the free-throw line.
Three days after hitting just 18 of 32 free throws in an 11-point loss at Nicholls, the Lady Demons rebounded by sinking 29 of 37 free throws Saturday, including 15 of 18 in the final quarter.
Ten of the 12 Northwestern State players who appeared in the game made their way to the free throw line.
Grant led the way, hitting 12 of 13 from the charity stripe. Both totals were career highs for the left-handed senior.
“Free throws are very important,” she said. “They win or lose games. Every day, (Dupuy) preaches free throws and rebounding, and that’s what we did today.”
Northwestern State returns to action Wednesday when it travels to Corpus Christi, Texas, to face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Tipoff on the island is set for 7 p.m.