The math hasn’t changed as the Northwestern State basketball team angles for its first Southland Conference Tournament bid in four years.
The Demons (12-15, 9-9 SLC) need to win at least one of its final two games and have Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (12-17, 8-10 SLC) lose one of its final two.
NSU, who is in a three-way tie for sixth place, has an opportunity to hold up its end when the Demons host New Orleans (8-20, 4-14 SLC) in their home finale at 6:30 p.m. in Prather Coliseum.
No current player has played in a Southland Conference Tournament game, and NSU coach Mike McConathy said his team does have a sense of urgency to lock up a spot.
“It’s important to have people that have not gotten to do what they would like to do,” said McConathy, who is finishing his 21st season in Natchitoches. “So many times in life, everybody assumes you just get to do that, you show up and get a participation trophy.
“But we’ve experienced loss and not being able to play in the tournament, and that sends a message that hey, we need to have that sense of urgency to make this happen and put ourselves in a position that we haven’t been in in four years.”
One player that certainly has that sense of urgency is senior Jacob Guest.
Guest will play his final home game Wednesday as the lone healthy senior being honored, and he wants to make an impact after battling injuries midway through his senior season.
“It would be really cool to go to the tournament because I’ve been fighting for four years to get there,” said Guest, who’s appeared in 71 games and made 34 3-pointers in his career. “We finally have the opportunity to get there, and everybody has to want it.
“Playing for the last time in Prather Coliseum should be fun, but it’ll be bittersweet for sure.”
Securing a tournament bid on the home floor will add some sweetness to the Demons home finale.
The Demons are attempting to shake off a three-game losing streak that includes heartbreakers to Nicholls and Southeastern that surround a big loss at Stephen F. Austin.
Nicholls erased a 16-point NSU lead, and the Demons nearly did the same at Southeastern on Saturday by wiping out a 21-point deficit before the Lions surged at end in a 95-92 Demons loss.
NSU won the previous meeting in New Orleans when the Demons built a 23-point lead and fended off a Privateers comeback in an 82-74 win.
Chudier Bile scored 20 points and Nikos Chougkaz added 13 points and 16 rebounds in the first win at UNO.
Bile returns after a two-game absence, and his presence should help NSU on the defensive end just as much as offensively.
“It’s important to get guys in a position where they can contest and block shots,” McConathy said. “We’ve done a really good job at forcing teams to shoot a poor percentage from the field, but these last two games, our two opponents have shot really well (49 percent for SFA and 55 percent).
“We haven’t contested shots very well. SFA beat us over the top for easy shots too many times, and we didn’t contest SLU guys very well in the 12-15 foot range.”
NSU had one of its better defensive games at UNO, forcing a Privateers team that shoots around 46 percent to make just 38 percent of its shots with the help of six blocks.
UNO has dropped five of its last six games and has just three road wins this season.
After the offense sputtered against a tough-minded SFA squad, the Demons picked it up at Southeastern by shooting 46 percent and flowing in its transition offense.
NSU was able to create transition opportunities at UNO as well, and continuing this trend will be key.
“We were really good in the open floor at Southeastern, and hopefully we can do the same this week,” McConathy said. “We’re a much better team when we get out into the open floor rather than being locked down in half-court situations.
“It’s not that we can’t be efficient in the half court, just part of us are better moving up and down in a free-flowing game.”
Junior Jairus Roberson has shined in free-flowing contests, making 68 3-pointers this season, including five vs. Southeastern.
He moved into NSU’s top-10 on the single-season 3-pointer list, checking in at No. 8 and just eight makes away from the top 5.
Roberson is shooting nearly 37 percent from deep on an NSU squad that has improved to 35 percent as a team, more than six points better than this past season.
“We created offense from our defense against Southeastern, but we couldn’t get the job done at the end,” Roberson said. “Defenses have tried to deny me the ball and keep it out of my hands, so I when I do touch it, and I’ve got to let it fly.”
JERSEY No. 14 TO MAKE ONE MORE APPEARANCE
It isn’t often that one sees a retired jersey running up and down the floor below where it hangs, but that’s been the case with NSU’s No. 14.
N-Club Hall of Famer Johnny McConathy had his No. 14 jersey retired, but for the last two seniors, grandson Jacob Guest has donned the retired number with honor.
Guest will play one final home game Wednesday, meaning the last trips up and down the floor for the No. 14.
“It’s meant a lot,” said Guest, who has also played for his uncle Mike McConathy. “My grandmother gave me the opportunity to wear that number after (Johnny) passed away, and I’ve loved keeping it going.
“It’s also been fun playing for my uncle. It’s been tough at times, but I know that he’s always there for me.”
Guest followed older brother Paxson to NSU, meaning there’s been a member of that family in NSU purple for most of this past decade. Add McConathy’s sons Mike and Logan to the mix, and there’s been a member of the McConathy clan playing at NSU for all but three seasons since 2006.
“It’s been great having Jacob in the program,” McConathy said. “He does a great job academically and does a lot of good things for us.
“He’s battled injuries this year, and that’s been hard to maintain. But it’s always great to have someone in the program that’s tied to the program, that knows the history and where it’s been and come from. I’m grateful for him to have been a part of it.”