Northwestern State never led conference leader Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday night, but the Demons erased a double-digit Lumberjack lead in the second half to give themselves plenty of opportunities.
NSU tied the score with five minutes left, but the Lumberjacks pulled away in the final 2:30 in the Demons’ 69-62 loss.
The Demons (7-10, 4-4 Southland Conference) wiped out a 15-point SFA lead thanks to a 16-3 run, but NSU couldn’t convert on 10 different possessions in which it was within one score of the Lumberjacks (16-3, 7-1 SLC).
“I’m really pleased that we didn’t quit, because everything we could do wrong, we did do wrong at times,” McConathy said. “We couldn’t find our way, but we had some great play in the second half and we got on the boards.
“We needed to attack more. We were down two forever, and we couldn’t come up with buckets when we down two or tied. But we’re going to be just fine, and we’ll work hard to get better. We’ve got continue to grow and do the little things to string together wins.”
Junior Chudier Bile scored eight of his career-high 26 points during the run, including two of NSU’s 4-pointers in the game. He added nine rebounds, one short of what would have been his sixth double-double this season.
Bile eventually tied the game at 54-54 with 5:17 remaining with a pair of free throws, finishing 7-of-8 from the line as the Demons hung tough with help of 20-of-23 free-throw shooting.
“This shows that we can compete with the best team in our conference,” Bile said. “We’ve got to come out better because we can’t start that slow and come back all the time.
“We’ve got to attack the rim more late in the game, play the percentages instead of settling for jump shots. SFA plays a really good pressure defense in the way they deny, don’t let you reverse it. Once we figured it out, we were able to make some back cuts and swing the ball to get better shots.”
With SFA leading 57-56, the Lumberjacks closed the game on a 12-6 run to escape Prather Coliseum with the victory. After making 12 of its first 21 shots in the second half, NSU finished 1-of-9 from the floor.
The loss is NSU’s first conference defeat at home this season and snapped a two-game winning streak in the SFA series. The loss also ended a stretch in which NSU was 5-2 in its last seven games this season.
NSU edged SFA in the rebounding battle (42-40) and forced a ‘Jacks squad that was one of the most efficient offensively (50 percent from the floor) to shoot 35 percent.
“I thought we did a great job defensively. I thought we contested shots and didn’t allow SFA to get back door buckets,” McConathy said. “Give credit to SFA because every time we were right there, they were able to come up with a rebound that kept us at bay.
“But I can’t say enough about our defense against this high percentage SFA team, and we’ll get better offensively.”
SFA made its living by scoring 27 points off NSU’s 21 turnovers.
Sophomore point guard Brian White made his return after missing the previous three games, scoring eight points including two baskets in the second-half run. White’s quickness allowed him to penetrate SFA’s defense and generate opportunities.
With its denying defense and deliberate offense, SFA jumped out to a 14-2 lead and held a sizable edge for most of the first half.
Senior Kevon Harris scored seven of SFA’s first nine points and had 15 in the first half. Harris finished with a team-high 25 points to lead three Lumberjacks in double figures. Juniors Roti Ware (17 points) and David Kachelries (11 points) joined Harris.
SFA led 23-6, but the Lumberjacks struggled offensively for most of the final 30 minutes.
NSU sliced the halftime deficit to 34-26 with five Bile points.
The Demons play their second straight home game Saturday when they host Southeastern Louisiana at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN3.