Building for March.
That’s Northwestern State’s ultimate goal as they vie for a Southland Conference Tournament slot with the hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament.
The Demons (8-12, 5-6 SLC) can add a significant block to that foundation Wednesday when Abilene Christian (12-9, 7-3 SLC) visits for a 6:30 p.m. game.
“This is a marathon and not a sprint,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, whose Demons are finding their way with five of their top six most used players being newcomers. “We’re still young with a lot of new pieces playing together.
“We’re starting to figure it out a little bit, but then we have a tendency to go back and revisit where you were before. Teams at our level are building for March, and we’re going to have some ups and downs. We think we’re going to have more ups than downs coming soon.”
Prather Coliseum has been a more rocking place with announced crowds averaging more than 1,300 in the last three home games, and sophomore guard Brian White said his team can feel the energy.
White missed three games with a groin injury and has played in the last four. His best performance since returning was an 11-point, five-assist day in a loss to Southeastern.
“We started off (SLC play) with a lot of away games, and it’s been great to be back in front of the home crowd especially with everybody back in school,” said White, a Natchitoches native. “But now we have to start winning these home games.
“I think we’re right there. We’ve lost some tough ones at home, and sometimes coaches say it’s better to watch and see how we can improve in those games. We’ve seen enough, and we’re ready to get back to winning at home. When I first got back (vs. Stephen F. Austin), my wind wasn’t right and I’ve been working to get back in it. Now I feel like I’m getting back in the flow.”
Junior guard C.J. Jones has increased his productivity in White’s absence, averaging five points and six assists in those three games.
Now the pair has settled into a timeshare in which they each play about a half of basketball.
“I feel a lot better about that position, and I’m a firm believer that a point guard shouldn’t play more than 22-24 minutes in our system,” McConathy said. “It’s so important for our point guard to push the ball and then get back and spearhead our defense.
“You have to get back where you’re supposed to be. I think that having (Jones and White) and then somebody like John Norvel that also has experience will be great going forward.”
Point guard play will be key against an ACU squad that forces nearly 21 turnovers per game and holds opponents to 65 points per game. NSU averages nearly 18 turnovers per game, although many of the Demons’ turnovers don’t lead to fastbreak points for opponents.
“ACU does a great job of creating tempo, and they are tough-minded defensively,” McConathy said. “Coach Joe Golding and that staff has done a great job of taking that program from where it was to the NCAA Tournament last year.
“They compete, make shots and get the ball inside. We have to stay within what we do. The things we do well, we have to continue to do them well. And then things like rebounding and team defense that we’ve done well in the past, we have to get back to doing those things.”
NSU has lost its last three home games but have had success on the road. NSU has won three of four on the road and will attempt to capitalize in this home stretch (four of the next five in Prather Coliseum).
The Demons enter Wednesday’s game in a tie for seventh place with Lamar (11-11, 5-6 SLC) with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (9-14, 5-7 SLC) nipping on the heels of the eight-team SLC Tournament picture.
Also part of that home stretch is NSU basketball’s reunion on Feb. 15 for the McNeese doubleheader.
Former men’s and women’s players can contact Marcia Bolton to RSVP and for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 318-357-4274.