After five straight nailbiters, the Northwestern State basketball team spared the dramatics Saturday.
But the Demons provided plenty of entertainment while rolling over rival Stephen F. Austin 87-72 in front of 2,020 at Prather Coliseum, sweeping the season series with the Lumberjacks.
The last five games for NSU (10-16 overall, 5-8 in the Southland Conference) were settled in the final minute or overtime. A pair of runs, 28-10 to open the second half and 15-3 when SFA (13-11, 6-6) closed within 71-65 with 6:29 to go, averted any late-game tension.
Despite not making at least half their shots for the first time in five games (40 percent overall), the 87 points were the Demons’ most in 55 games dating back to the final game of the 2016-17 season. Going 13 of 26 on 3-pointers was NSU’s best performance since the season opener.
Leading the long-distance production was junior guard LaTerrance Reed, who sank 7 of 11 behind the arc as he bombed in a season-best 27 points. Senior forward/center Ishmael Lane posted his eight double-double in nine games, 18 points and 12 rebounds, knocking down a trey himself, while adding three assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
NSU (10-16 overall, 5-8 in the Southland Conference) got another double-double, the first of his career, from sophomore point guard C.J. Jones (14 points, 10 assists). Senior DeAndre Love added 10 points.
With the Lumberjacks playing the foul game trying to cut into the Demons’ advantage down the stretch, NSU didn’t falter, sinking 80 percent at the line. The 28 makes were a season best.
“Our coaches have been harping on finishing strong,” said Reed. “Today we did. We had one mentality, a united purpose.”
Reed set the tone by raining in five straight 3-pointers over an early eight-minute stretch.
“I kept getting looks from C.J.,” said Reed. “It’s credit to him and my other teammates for finding me and setting me up.”
SFA recovered from a deficit as big as nine, ended the half on a 15-5 run and scored the second half’s first points to lead 41-38. Sophomore Larry Owens, whose steal and slam at the halftime buzzer made it just a one-point Lumberjack edge, converted a three-point play on NSU’s next trip, and the Demons never trailed again.
That launched a burst of 10 straight points that stretched into a 15-2 run, ultimately building into a decisive 28-8 NSU outburst over seven minutes as Lane contributed nine points.
Following 10 turnovers in the first half, the Demons suffered only four more while the Lumberjacks committed a dozen of their 16 miscues.
“We came out and attacked, and we made some buckets,” said 20th-year Demons head coach Mike McConathy. “We took care of the basketball, played great team defense, and we made our free throws, which is so critical.
“We got great efforts by LT (Reed), Ish, C.J., as well as DeAndre. But the biggest thing is everybody’s on the same page. We got something from everybody out there. We have to have a one mentality, a now mentality, and take care of things one game at a time.
“Today we did that against a very talented, well-coached team.”
SFA was led by a game-high 29 points from senior guard Shannon Bogues while senior forward Kevon Harris scored 18.
Jones gave the Demons a 10-assist outing for the first time in 114 contests since near the end of the 2014-15 season. He went 8 of 10 at the free throw line, hitting six straight and issuing his final two assists as NSU repelled the visitors’ last threat and opened a lead as big as 18.
“C.J. did a great job of putting us in position to do what we needed, not only to protect but to extend the lead,” said McConathy.
Lane took over fourth on the school career blocked shots list (154), passing Dexter Grimsley’s total from 1989-93. Lane stands eighth all-time in rebounding and 15th in scoring.
The outcome was NSU’s biggest Southland Conference victory margin in 57 outings dating back to 2016. It made McConathy’s team 5-1 on Saturdays in league play, including the last three straight.
The Demons travel to Houston Baptist next Wednesday night, then are off next Saturday before hosting Incarnate Word the following Wednesday.