By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations; featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services
HATTIESBURG, Mississippi—Trailing by 11 at the half, Northwestern State battled back in the second half to take the lead, but ultimately couldn’t complete the comeback in an 83-74 loss to Southern Miss on Saturday at the Reed Green Coliseum.
With the Golden Eagles clinging to a 61-57 lead, they connected on seven of their final eight shots of the contest and drained all eight free throws in that final 7:23 to pull away for the win.
“We competed really well,” first-year head coach Rick Cabrera said. “We left it all on the court. We made a lot of mistakes. They had pretty much everybody returning and were able to capitalize on our mistakes.
“I am always encouraged, even in losses. Close losses are just a part of the process, but we’ll get there.”
The game was the sixth contest of seven consecutive that NSU plays away from Natchitoches.
The Demons (1-8) wiped away a 13-point second half deficit with a 15-point run to turn a 41-28 game into a 43-41 advantage. In the run, Cliff Davis drained two of his season-high seven triples, leading him to a game-high and season-high 24 points.
“Cliff’s performance is not surprising,” Cabrera said. “He is what you call a specialist. He makes 3s. That is what he does. When he is shooting like he did in the second half, you have to find him and he was knocking them down when we did.”
A jumper from Victor Hart put an end to the Demons run before Davis connected on another triple to put NSU on top.
USM’s Austin Crowley responded with a 3-pointer before Hart sank two free throws to put the Golden Eagles on top for good.
Hart finished with a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
NSU shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, including 8-of-17 from behind the 3-point line. But while the Demons shot 50 percent, the Golden Eagles (5-4) connected on 60.7 percent of their shots in the half to thwart the comeback attempt.
A balanced USM team turned back every run NSU had, as the Demons largest lead was three points and the Golden Eagles had a response each time.
Braelon Bush did his best to keep the Demons in the game, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the second half.
“Braelon has Division I experience and has a scoring mentality,” Cabrera said. “His play kept us in the game in the second half.”
Bush also chipped in with four of NSU’s nine steals in the game.
NSU had to dig itself out of a hole in the first half, trailing by 13 on two occasions. The Demons cut the deficit to six, but a quick 5-0 run pushed the USM lead back to 11.
The Golden Eagles received 35 points from its bench—18 from Victor Iwuakor and 17 from Cobie Montgomery—to outscore the Demons by 23 in the area.
Chase Forte added 10 points for the Demons and Jimel Lane chipped in with seven. A total of eight Demons dented the scoreboard.
USM registered five players in double figures, including three with at least 17 points, as Victor Hart’s 17 joined Iwuakor’s 18 and Montgomery’s 17. Donovan Ivory added 13 and Austin Crowley chipped in 10.
Crowley scored or assisted on 20 of USM’s 47 second half points.
The Golden Eagles made 18-of-20 free throws, including converting on all 10 attempts from the charity stripe in the second half.
NSU finishes off a stretch of more than a month away from Prather Coliseum with a trip to Boise State on Tuesday before beginning a two-game homestand against Rice on Dec. 16. Tip-off in Boise is set for 8 p.m. at ExtraMile Arena.