THIBODAUX – The Northwestern State men’s basketball team has determined a formula for how to win on the road this season – keep the game close and play well at the end.
The Demons did not get the chance to enact their late-game clutch factor Monday night as homestanding Nicholls weathered a late first-half push and pulled away for an 87-71 Southland Conference victory inside Stopher Gym.
“We tried to back off our guys a little bit,” 22nd-year head coach Mike McConathy said. “We walked through some stuff this morning. We went (on the same day ) to TCU and got beat by six by a Big 12 team. I can’t explain why we didn’t have it (Monday night).”
The conference leader, Nicholls (16-6, 13-2) led by as much as 18 in the first half before Northwestern State (9-16, 8-6) cut the lead to eight on a basket by Trenton Massner with 40 seconds to play in the first half.
After Nicholls re-established a 10-point halftime lead, the Demons made their last best push early in the second half.
Led by a personal 7-0 run by Jamaure Gregg, who had 11 of his 15 points in the second half, Northwestern State whittled the Colonels lead to five at 48-43 and had Nicholls, which played an overtime game Saturday on the ropes.
However, a timely 3-pointer by Jeremiah Buford with 16:03 to play in the second half helped the Colonels regain their footing and started a 12-0 Nicholls run across the next 2:11.
While Nicholls shot just 25 percent from 3-point range, three of those came in the second-half-shifting run.
“It was boom, boom, boom,” McConathy said. “Buford hit two and KJ (Kevin Johnson) hit one over there.”
The 12-0 push was one of several double-figure runs for Nicholls, which also had a 13-0 run in the first half that erased an early three-point NSU lead.
The Demons had a pair of 7-0 runs, including Gregg’s personal surge in the second half. Northwestern State, however, could not sustain much offense.
The Demons shot 40.3 percent from the field aided by a 4-for-5 finish in the final 2:42. Northwestern State also hit just five of 12 free throws.
“A lot of that had to do with their physicality and their aggressiveness,” McConathy said. “You’re not going to beat anybody going 5-for-12 from the line, especially not against a team that leads the league.”
Gregg and Massner each finished with 15 points while Brian White added 10 points for the Demons.
Jaylen Fornes, who did not play in Nicholls’ 76-66 win at Prather Coliseum on Jan. 13, led four Colonels in double figures with a game-high 18 points. Andre Jones added 16 points and a game-high 14 rebounds as Nicholls outrebounded Northwestern State by eight.
The Demons cap their final road trip of the season Wednesday night at New Orleans. Tipoff inside Lakefront Arena is set for 7 p.m.