THIBODAUX – For most of the 2020-21 season, it seemed all the Northwestern State men’s basketball team knew was road games, and the Demons enjoyed success away from home.
For the first time in nearly three weeks, Northwestern State returns to the road, starting a season-ending Southland Conference two-game trip to south Louisiana that begins with a 6 p.m. Monday tip at Nicholls.
The game can be heard on 95.9 FM and the Demon Sports Network. Free streaming audio is available on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple or Android devices.
After an extended stretch at home, can the Demons (9-15, 8-5) regain the road rhythm that has seen them win four of their first six conference road games, including a current three-game win streak that began Jan. 23 at Southeastern Louisiana?
“We spent so much of a two-month span on the road, so I think we would be able to,” 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy said. “It is a little bit of a challenge, because of the way it came about with the ice and the snow and not being able to get out of Natchitoches. It does work out better that we’re not making two trips down to south Louisiana.”
Standing in the way of Northwestern State extending its run of road success is the conference-leading Colonels (15-6, 12-2), who outlasted New Orleans, 105-101, in overtime Saturday night.
Nicholls was the only one of the conference’s top three teams that played Saturday to avoid an upset as both Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin fell. Those results put the Colonels ahead of Sam Houston (11-2) and Abilene Christian (11-2) by a half game in the conference standings.
“They’ve been really good in overtime games,” McConathy said. “They beat Southeastern in overtime earlier and beat New Orleans, coming from behind with less than four seconds to go. Coach (Austin) Claunch does an excellent job. He has excellent players.
“They’re just ballers. They just want to play basketball. I think that’s the ultimate compliment you can pay a team you’re going to compete against. They’re going to do the things they need to do to be successful to win.”
Nicholls won the first matchup of the season, 76-66, in Prather Coliseum on Jan. 13. The winter weather that enveloped most of Louisiana pushed the rematch back 12 days and forced the Demons into back-to-back, three-game weeks to close the regular season.
Northwestern State grabbed two wins in its first three-game week, all of which were played at home, learning how to adjust to a new routine late in the season.
The Demons will have to take a similar tact when it comes to learning from the first matchup against the Colonels.
“When we played them here, I thought we competed really well up until the last 3:50,” McConathy said. “Then we had a little struggle. We missed some easy buckets down the stretch. They made their free throws late and pulled out to a 10-point win.”
That loss was part of a 1-4 start to conference play for Northwestern State, which quickly righted things and has since won seven of eight games.
Included in that was a six-game win streak where the Demons won each game by eight or fewer points, including three games where the Northwestern State defense made a key stop in the final seconds to seal the victory.
The Demons didn’t need that late-game magic Saturday, posting an 18-point win against Southeastern Louisiana, marking its largest margin of victory in conference play this season.
“I am thankful we’ve made some progress,” McConathy said. “Saturday was the first time in a long, long time where were hitting on all cylinders for 30 minutes. It was a great effort by our guys, and we learned a lot coming off the game against SFA on Wednesday. We showed our ability to bounce back.
“What I’m going to talk to our guys about is how you can’t take time back. A lot of times, everybody says I’ll get another chance. At this stage, there is no time left. We have three games left, and every game is like a tournament game. That’s what we talk about the last month of the season, emphasizing the importance of showing up every day ready to play.”