HAMMOND – As hot as Southeastern Louisiana’s basketball team had been, it seemed something special was needed for Northwestern State to end the nation’s 10th-longest homecourt win streak Wednesday night.
Devonte Hall and Jordan Bell were special, leading the Demons to an impressive 85-71 victory at the University Center. Hall, a former Bossier High star, poured in a career-high 28 points, dropping in 14 of 17 free throws, while Bell shattered his NSU bests with a double-double, 18 points and 12 rebounds.
As dynamic as Hall and Bell were, it was the collective effort by NSU that overwhelmed an SLU team that had won its last three overall and 16 straight at home.
“We’re playing above and we’re playing tough, in a challenging situation,” said coach Mike McConathy. “That really showed here tonight.”
It was the Demons’ third win in four outings, and their second straight, squaring their overall record at 9-9 and upping their Southland Conference mark to 3-4. The Lions dipped to 12-9 overall, 5-3 in the conference.
NSU led for the game’s final 16:37 after Bell, a 6-8 freshman, drained two straight 3-pointers to ignite a 13-0 burst in under three minutes. The Demons went up 56-43 on another 3, by 14-point scorer Sabri Thompson, then withstood a SLU string of 9 unanswered points in 2:11 to close the spread to four.
The Lions edged as close as 60-57 with 9:39 remaining, but Thompson nailed another 3 and moved into sole possession of 10th on the NSU career 3-pointers list (308) to blunt the run. SLU stayed inside two possessions until the Demons pulled away with uncharacteristic free throw aim.
Hitting only 65.5 percent this season, NSU sank 16 of its last 17 at the line. The run started with four straight by 47-percent shooter Ishmael Lane that doubled the Demons’ advantage to 72-64. Hall went on a personal run afterward, scoring 11 in the final 4:16, including sinking 9 of 10 free throws.
For the second straight game, the Demons made more than half their shots, hitting 51 percent, 56 percent in the second half. They made a season-best 81 percent (25-31) at the free throw line, and battered the Lions on the boards, 39-23, with Lane adding 8 rebounds.
SLU dropped in 47 percent of its shots and had five players in double figures, led by Davon Hayes with 13 in a game with 10 ties and six lead changes. NSU closed the night on a 17-5 run over the final 6:42.
“No doubt about it, this is our best win,” said McConathy. “We were down (37-35) at half, but then made an unbelievable run, and we stood tall and moved it back out there.
“We competed so hard. We outrebounded them by 16,” he said. “We took care of the ball in the stretch and did a really nice job of defending the passing lanes. “
Hall topped his career best of 23 points five games earlier as NSU played without backup point guard Josh Bell, a freshman who had an emergency appendectomy early Wednesday and will miss at least the next two weeks.
“Devonte had an incredible game. He had the ball in his hands and got to the line again and again, and converted,” said McConathy. “He’s a tough guy who has made late-game plays for us again and again.”
Bell’s breakout performance topped his 10-point previous best also five games ago, and the rebounding total was four above his best in the last non-conference game on Dec. 28.
“Jordan was remarkable. He has such wonderful timing, and a feel for the game. He is strong with his hands and that really makes a difference inside,” said McConathy.
It was his team’s cohesiveness and tenacity that had McConathy beaming afterward.
“Defensively in the last three minutes, we disrupted them. We played awfully tough with the game on the line against a good team at their place.”
NSU will play its third straight road game Saturday afternoon at Lamar. The Demons visit Central Arkansas next Thursday, then come home on Feb. 4 to play Stephen F. Austin.
— Doug Ireland, Northwestern State Sports Information