Northwestern State senior standout Ishmael Lane has four games left in his basketball career, beginning Wednesday night at 6:30 in Prather Coliseum against Incarnate Word.
He wants more than four. For him and fellow four-year senior Malik Metoyer, the goal is to play games next month in Katy, Texas, site of the eight-team Southland Conference Tournament.
Getting there will require a strong finish by the Demons (10-17 overall, 5-9 in the Southland). To succeed, 20th-year coach Mike McConathy’s team will depend on continued production and leadership from Lane, who isn’t comfortable with his legacy at NSU based on his lofty rankings in career statistical categories.
“Malik and I came in together, and this is our last shot. We don’t want to be seniors who didn’t get to Katy,” said Lane, whose Demons are aiming for their first conference tournament trip since 2015.
“It’s fun because we have a chance to get there, and it’s pressure for the same reason. These are the games you live for,” he said. “We are taking them one at a time and it’s going to be fun to see what happens.”
Lane has handled pressure extremely well this season. As a preseason first-team All-Southland selection, he’s been the focal point of opposing defenses all season, and has drawn double coverage frequently.
In NSU’s career record book, he stands fourth in blocked shots (158, just two away from third), eighth in rebounding (807), and 14th in scoring (1,408, 29 points away from breaking into the top 10).
He’s had nine double-doubles in the past 10 games, 11 this season and 26 in his career. In Southland games, the 6-8 forward/center is the league’s top rebounder going away (12.0, nearly three more than the second-best player), and averages 15.1 points and a league-best 2.9 blocks. His rates for rebounding and rejections more than double his career averages, and he’s three points better this season in scoring.
“The difference is not taking plays off,” said Lane. “Coach Mike told me he could see this year, I’m giving 100 percent effort on defense, and then 100 percent effort offensively. I’m affecting the game in different ways, constantly, besides scoring and rebounding.”
Lane’s played the best basketball of his Demon days in the middle of the Southland season. In the last 10 games, he is way above his career 53 percent shooting rate, hitting 64 percent while averaging 16.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
“It’s being prepared, studying the opponents, being ready to play and not taking any plays off. I know being the captain, my team is going to follow my performance. It feels good to be in the zone, but it’s a product of being prepared to play.”
While handling the pressure of expectations, Lane has also come through repeatedly when games are on the line.
He drained a clinching 3-pointer with nine seconds left in an early-season overtime win over Alabama A&M; sank two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining to clinch a victory at Central Arkansas; knifed in for a game-winning tip-in at Stephen F. Austin; and nailed a 16-footer at the buzzer to force overtime against New Orleans.
“Those shots at the end of the game, I’ll take at any point in the game, so I’m confident taking them then,” said Lane. “I’ve practiced them a million times in the gym. Those shots are the ones you practice when you’re a little kid, so having the opportunity to be able to take them is what you dreamed about doing.”
McConathy attributes Lane’s senior surge to a resolute approach that he hopes is contagious on a team that has eight sophomores or freshmen and nobody other than Lane and Metoyer who’s been in purple and white before last season.
“Ish has adopted an ‘I’ve got to go get it done’ mentality. That’s what you want from everybody, but it’s hardly automatic. I hope these young players who are around him are absorbing his example, and there are indications that’s happening.”
Lane’s leadership style starts with encouraging teammates to believe in themselves.
“Play with confidence. I’ve been in their shoes as a young player and understand how easy it is to get down on yourself when you miss a shot, or make a mistake,” he said. “I encourage them and try to lead by example. I mess up too, but then on one end or the other, I’ll try to make up for it. Most of all, believe in yourself.”
He’s had a team of family members who have been influential in his development every step of the way.
“My mom, my grandmother, uncle, aunts, cousins, they give me advice and help me grow,” said Lane, whose mother played volleyball at Tulane. “They’ve watched me all my life. They know my game. Aside from our team, our coaches, they’ve helped me evolve.”
“He’s a prince of a young man, with a great family. You see the love of that family toward Ish and it’s truly something extraordinary. He’s had a great career here and we’d love to finish on a positive note for him.”
The Demons square off Wednesday in their only meeting of the season with a fresh-faced Incarnate Word team. The Cardinals (6-21, 1-13) have four sophomores and eight true freshmen under first-year coach Dr. Carson Cunningham.
“They’re extremely well coached, very competitive,” said McConathy. “We’ve got to get the ball inside, make some easy buckets, and go inside-out. We need to be aggressive defensively.”
NSU hopes to get back into gear after absorbing a 92-54 shelling on the road at Houston Baptist last Wednesday.
“You’ve played so many close games, and then that happens,” said McConathy. “Disheartened by that performance, but I am encouraged by the practices since, and their attitude.”
The contest can be heard on 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches, 103.1 KDBV FM in Anacoco and through the Demon Sports Network with Patrick Netherton calling the action. Steaming video and audio are available atwww.NSUDemons.com/watch or through the new Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded through either the Apple Store or Google Play.
NSU goes to Southeastern Louisiana Saturday afternoon and visits Nicholls next Wednesday before the regular season ends Saturday afternoon, March 9 against Central Arkansas. The Southland Tournament is March 13-16 in Katy.