NATCHITOCHES — Staring at the first chance to pick up his 600th career coaching win Tuesday night when Northwestern State basketball team hosts Abilene Christian, Demons’ coach Mike McConathy has another number in mind.
“I’d like to be 3-1 in conference. That’s all I’m concerned with,” said McConathy, who in his 32nd year of college coaching and his 16th at NSU has 599 wins after freshman guard Devonte Hall’s buzzer-beating 6-footer settled Saturday’s 103-101 shootout with Incarnate Word.
McConathy, a former Airline star, picked up 352 of his wins in 16 years as head coach at Bossier Parish Community College.
The Demons (7-7 overall) can move to 3-1 in the Southland if they can hand the much-improved Wildcats their first conference loss in a 6:30 matchup at Prather Coliseum. ACU (8-7, 2-0) has already matched its conference win total from last season with a pair of 17-point homecourt victories over Central Arkansas and Nicholls, and has captured four of its last five overall while being over .500 at this point of the season for the first time since 2008.
“They’re markedly improved,” said McConathy. “They have two small guards who pose problems for us, they shoot very well from outside and on 3-pointers, and obviously they’re playing well. We’ve got our hands full.”
So will the Wildcats, facing an offense averaging 90 points in its last six games, spearheaded by the NCAA’s assists leader (Southland Player of the Week Jalan West, averaging 7.6 assists) and second-ranked scorer (Zeek Woodley, 22.3 per game). West had 33 and Woodley 28 in Saturday’s wild win.
West, who is averaging 21.8 in the last eight games, has raised his season’s scoring average to 17.4.
ACU has three double-figure scorers led by returning standout guard Parker Wentz (13.4 points per game on 45 percent 3-point aim), Harrison Hawkins (12.6 ppg) and LaDarrien Williams (11.1).
The Demons will celebrate a milestone not long after tipoff with 6-10 junior college transfer Deji Adekunle making his long-delayed debut. A surprising NCAA eligibility ruling sidelined him for the season’s first 14 games, despite appeals, and has at this point denied him a senior season next year, related to the Englishman’s brief enrollment at a now-defunct West Virginia prep school.
“The NCAA makes decisions that we don’t agree with. I’m not happy about it, because it impacts a real quality young man,” said McConathy. “He didn’t do anything wrong, he’s a wonderful person and a good student in music education who has a bright future. He will go pro in something other than sports. We have to accept it and go forward, and sometimes that’s easier said than done.
“What kind of impact will he make? I’m clueless. I honestly don’t know what to expect. Deji’s a good addition, but with all the game prep we’ve been doing since Christmas we really haven’t had the opportunity to mesh him into rotations at practice,” said McConathy. “He has worked hard in individual workouts and he looked good out there this (Monday) morning. Obviously he adds a big body and athleticism inside, and you can never have enough of that. We’re just very happy that he finally gets to go out and play.”
McConathy hopes Adekunle will contribute to some improved defense.
“There definitely wasn’t any defense Saturday. The object is to score more than the other team, but it would help if we made it more difficult for them to score. We gave up way too many easy baskets and can’t continue to do that,” he said.
If the Demons can hamper ACU enough to prevail, the 600th win will attest to longevity and many contributors, said McConathy.
“I’ll admit it is a milestone number that says I’ve been doing this for a long time, but it’s not about me. It’s due to a lot of hard-working, quality young men who have played for me through the years, and some outstanding coaches and staff who have worked along with me, especially since I’ve been at Northwestern,” he said. “I hope we can get it done Tuesday night because that will mean we’ve beaten a good team and we will have defended our homecourt.”
The Demons are aiming for their 14th home win in 15 tries dating back almost a year, and for their 26th victory in 31 outings since West’s career began in 2012-13.
The contest will be broadcast on the Demon Sports Network, including SuperTalk 1340 AM KRMD in Shreveport. Free audio is available at NSUDemons.com and SuperTalk1340.com, with pay-per-view video streamed at NSUDemons.com.
The Demons wrap up a season-long three-game homestand Saturday afternoon against Lamar.
— Northwestern State Sports Information