By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Twenty minutes from clinching at least a share of its first Southland Conference, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team got caught up in a free throw shooting contest.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Isaac Mushila scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half, hitting 15 free throws in the final 20 minutes, to overcome a career-best scoring performance from Demon point guard DeMarcus Sharp as the Islanders defeated Northwestern State 83-75 on Saturday afternoon in the American Bank Center.
“It was a hard fought game,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “I’m so proud of these Demons. They’ve exceeded expectations in every way. Like we told them in the locker room, no one has an expectation on us but ourselves. We have our own expectations. These young men have fought all season long through adversity, fought so many mental things throughout the season. For our guys to come in here and fight against a very good Texas A&M-Corpus Christi team, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Demons (20-10, 12-5) took a five-point lead into halftime thanks to a hot shooting first half in which they hit 53 percent of their shots. Isaac Haney’s mid-court steal and ensuing layup with 3 seconds left gave NSU its largest first-half lead at 34-29.
The Islanders (20-10, 13-4) answered that with a red-hot shooting start to the second half, hitting seven of their first 10 shots and erasing the Demons’ five-point edge 5:08 into the second half on a Trevian Tennyson 3-pointer – his fourth of five made 3s on the day.
Tennyson’s bucket was part of an 13-2 Corpus run across a 4:02 stretch of the second half that put the Islanders ahead to stay.
Despite a career-best 40-point performance by DeMarcus Sharp, who also handed out five of the Demons’ seven assists, the Demons could not come any closer than one after forging a 51-51 tie on an Isaac Haney layup with 13:43 to play.
Sharp had 21 of the Demons’ 36 second-half points and was joined in double figures by Haney, who finished with 10 points.
“DeMarcus Sharp is hands-down the (Southland) Player of the Year,” Gipson said. “I don’t know if the votes will go his way, but any conference I’ve been part of, anybody who played to his caliber was hands-down player of the year. As far as our team, they know how to play with him and play off of him. DeMarcus did what he’s done all season.”
Following Haney’s game-tying basket, Mushila went to the line and sank two free throws, part of a second-half in which the Islanders senior forward hit 15 of 17 free throws and nearly recorded a double-double, grabbing seven rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
Mushila finished the game 19-for-24 from the line while Sharp sank all 13 of his second-half free throws in a half that saw the teams whistled for a combined 34 fouls and shoot a combined 46 free throws with each team hitting 20 in the final half.
NSU had one final push, cutting the Islanders’ lead to 68-67 on a pair of Sharp free throws before Mushila pieced together a three-point play to build a four-point lead and start an 11-4 run for the Islanders that virtually clinched the game and the No. 1 seed in next month’s Southland Conference Tournament.
“Mushila did a great job of drawing contact,” Gipson said. “He was the aggressor. He played like the game was on the line. You’ve got to have guys like him and Sharp, who take the bull by the horns in this type of game. They deserved the outcome, and we didn’t. One thing about it, we’re in a one-bid league, and both teams still have one game left.”
The Demons conclude the regular season Wednesday night when they host UIW. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. A Demon win and an Islander loss at Texas A&M-Commerce would secure a share of the regular-season title for the Demons – their first since the 2005-06 season.
— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services