Northwestern State attacked the paint and defended the interior Wednesday as the Demons pulled away from New Orleans in an 82-74 win at Lakefront Arena.
NSU (8-11, 5-5 Southland Conference) used huge runs in the first and second halves to stop a two-game skid and win its third road game in its last four tries.
The Privateers (6-15, 2-9 SLC) sliced into NSU’s lead in both of those halves to threaten, including chopping a 23-point edge to as few as seven points with four minutes remaining.
But junior Chudier Bile scored six straight points, including two dunks, to sink UNO’s comeback hopes.
Bile scored a game-high 20 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting, his fifth 20-point game this season.
“We were thinking that we had to keep our composure, just to stay together even though (UNO) was making a run. We just had to calm down,” Bile said. “We just had to move the ball, swing it from side to side.
“Don’t dribble it, just keep moving the ball. We were mad about our last two losses at home (vs. Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern), but if we come to play like we did today, it’s tough for us to lose.”
Bile led three Demons in double figures and seven players with at least seven points.
The balanced attack helped NSU shoot 49 percent from the field and build a 42-32 edge in points in the paint.
“We moved the ball well and defended and rebounded early on,” said McConathy, who topped former NSU assistant Mark Slessinger. “We got a little bit careless at the end, and we had some turnovers that turned into easy UNO buckets.
“But the beautiful thing about this game is that nobody but (Nikos Chougkaz) played more than 24 minutes, so that should set us up well physically for Saturday against Central Arkansas.”
Nikos Chougkaz compiled his second straight double-double and third of the season with 13 points and 16 rebounds (tied a career-high). Chougkaz added a career-high six assists as the Demons had 18 assists on 32 baskets, its highest against a Division I opponent this season.
“I told myself that I want to get as many rebounds as I can each game, and I set a goal for 10 rebounds each game,” Chougkaz said. “I found a way today to make open shots, and all of us were moving the ball well.
“We lost our concentration late, but we stayed in the coaches’ game plan, and we trusted it. That’s it.”
The Demons followed the staff’s plan closely in the first half as NSU sprinted to a 31-13 lead behind 60 percent shooting.
Junior Jamaure Gregg had all eight of his first half points during that stretch, which included a 20-4 run and 13 straight points. Gregg finished with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Junior C.J. Jones produced six of his eight points in the first half. Trenton Massner chipped in seven points of his nine points before halftime.
The Demons had just four turnovers in the half and finished with 14 after averaging nearly 18 per game.
Down 18 points, UNO responded with 12 straight as part of a bigger 17-3 run as NSU’s lead was trimmed to 34-30.
UNO sophomore Jahmel Myers scored five of his 12 first-half points during the run, but NSU scored eight of the last 11 of the half to take a 42-33 halftime lead. Myers finished with a team-high 18 points.
Leading UNO scorer Bryson Robinson added 15 points (averages 18), but he shot just 3-of-10 from the field.
In the second half, the Demons made six of its first nine shots and built a 23-point advantage (67-44) thanks to a 19-5 run.
Six different Demons scored during the run.
“We showed a lot of resolve to build the lead, and but we didn’t play good defense when UNO made its push,” McConathy said. “We took plays off during that stretch and didn’t go get the ball, but we made plays down the stretch to keep the lead.
“But the focus and resolve we had today was much better than Saturday against Southeastern.”
New Orleans, who entered the game shooting 46 percent this season, made just 38 percent of its attempts Wednesday.
The NSU win also snapped a four-game UNO winning streak in the series. NSU’s last win against the Privateers came in 2017.
The Demons return home Saturday to host Central Arkansas as part of a doubleheader with the Lady Demons.