COLLEGE STATION, Texas — When the Northwestern State men’s basketball team rolls into Texas A&M on Friday for its first of two road games against Power Five teams this weekend, the Demons won’t be in unfamiliar territory.
NSU, which will open its season at 8 p.m. against an Aggies squad that is receiving votes in multiple preseason polls, has played 17 games against Power Five opponents since 2012-13.
The Demons knocked off Auburn in 2013-14, and seven of their 16 losses have been within 15 points. NSU lost at Texas A&M 109-68 in 2014-15 but just 78-65 in 2012-13.
Friday’s game can be seen on the SEC Network or heard on KWLV 107.1 FM in Many or streamed live on nsudemons.com.
Coach Mike McConathy said winning is of course the goal, but playing well enough to be in a position to win at the end is even more important when playing against Power Five competition.
“This is a big-time venue, and our kids get to line up against people they’ve heard about,” said McConathy, a former Airline star and BPCC head coach. “We have to do what we need to do in terms of consistent defense, getting back in transition, blocking out and rebounding and taking care of the ball.
“In our last scrimmage, we had five turnovers. I’d love to play against the big boys and have just five turnovers, because then we have a chance to compete. We have areas that we need to get victories in.”
Senior guard Zeek Woodley, a mid-major All-American this past season who is second in the nation among active scorers (1,764), said the Demons want to prove they are better than the 8-20 record.
The Pelican native is one of four returning scorers to average double-figure points, leading the Demons with 22.2 points per game this past season. He is joined by senior guard Sabri Thompson (12.6), junior guard Devonte Hall (11.4) and sophomore forward Ishmael Lane (11.5).
“It feels pretty good to get back on the court with a team we know is better than last year’s,” Woodley said. “We’re going to try to win (Friday), and we know they are a big team with a lot of people in the stands.
“We got used to playing without (star point guard) Jalan West, because we played all year without him.”
West tore his ACL in the season-opener at Ole Miss this past season and re-injured the knee this summer as the team prepared to play an exhibition tour in Canada.
Thompson emerged as the team’s vocal leader without West, who is the program’s all-time assist leader and 3-point shooter.
“We’re ready to go out there and test what we’ve been working on,” Thompson said. “We’re more confident because of the past trips we’ve made, and we know they have to step out on the court just like we do.
“We’ve beat Auburn before, so we know it’s not impossible to knock one of these teams off. I’ll be with the second wave, which includes a lot of younger players. I’m more of a vocal guy … and we’ve got some newcomers that can really help us.”
Senior Tra’von Joseph keyed a 2013-14 push in which NSU won 12 of its last 15 games before losing in the Southland Conference Tournament semifinals, and he’s healthy after battling injuries this past season.
McConathy said Joseph’s energy will be needed for a team that’s had a roller-coaster preseason.
“We competed a lot better last week after not competing well the week before,” said McConathy, who enters his 18th season with 267 wins at NSU. “The previous two or three weeks before that, we played as hard as we had in my history with the program.
“We’ve had our bumps, bruises and injuries — we’re down three people right now. But we’ll find out where we are really quick against a quality team like Texas A&M.”
The Aggies return just one starter back from a team that won a program-best 28 games and its first conference title in more than 30 years.
But coach Billy Kennedy, a former Northwestern State assistant coach and former Southeastern head coach, has lifted the Aggies to a formidable force in the Southeastern Conference.
Center Tyler Davis is the team’s lone returning starter with 11 points and six rebounds per game, but the Aggies have a handful of veteran reserves who will start this season.
— Matt Vines, Northwestern State Sports Information