Home » Men’s college basketball: Islanders rally past Demons to deny NSU tournament title

Men’s college basketball: Islanders rally past Demons to deny NSU tournament title

by Russell Hedges

By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations

LAKE CHARLES – Northwestern State’s eighth appearance in a Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game could not have started better.

For the second straight game, the Demons blitzed their opponent early, building a double-digit lead in the first half, this time against top-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – the regular-season champions and the 2022 tournament winners

The Islanders leaned on that postseason experience and shook off the loss of Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Terrion Murdix to an early injury and rallied past Northwestern State for a 75-71 victory inside the Legacy Center on Wednesday that denied the second-seeded Demons their first conference tournament crown since 2013.

“My heart really goes out to Terrion Murdix,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “It really sank when he went out. Yeah, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but that was one of our brothers over there at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi was very brave in how they rallied around that. When you get ahead in life, you can’t stop doing what you did when you get ahead.”

The same held true for the Demons (22-11) on the court.

Just as it happened in Tuesday night’s semifinal win against New Orleans, Northwestern State blistered the nets, sinking its first four 3-pointers – two each by Ja’Monta Black and Isaac Haney – and built a 12-point lead less than eight minutes into the game.

The lead grew to 16 just past the halfway mark of the first half when DeMarcus Sharp, the league’s Player and Newcomer of the Year, hit a step-back jumper to put the Demons up 26-10 with 9:46 remaining in the half.

That’s when Owen Dease awakened the Islanders.

A 6-foot-8 freshman who had hit 6 of 35 3-pointers on the season, Dease hit both of his 3-point attempts in the first half, sparking Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s 21-5 run across the final 9:46 of the half, tying the game at the break.

“Guys on that team who hadn’t played much or been very productive throughout the year, they found a way to activate themselves and do a job to pull back from behind,” Gipson said. “That’s impressive.”

Thanks to Dease’s scoring surge, the Islanders kept the momentum going into the second half and took their first lead of the game on De’Lazarus Keys’ jumper that snapped a 31-all tie with 17:46 to play, marking the first time in two tournament games the Demons had trailed.

It set off a back-and-forth affair down the stretch, befitting of two teams whose two previous meetings this season were both single-digit affairs won by the Islanders.

Northwestern State built a four-point lead off a 7-0 run following Dease’s tiebreaking 3-pointer at the 17:15 mark before the Islanders (23-10) responded again.

Corpus built its largest lead of the game – the first of three separate eight-point edges with 4:50 to play on a Trevian Tennyson jumper. Again, Northwestern State fought back, scoring six straight points all involving Sharp, who scored four and fed Greedy Williams for a layup to cut the lead to two.

Tournament MVP Jalen Jackson’s layup with 1:36 gave the Islanders their final eight-point lead, one the Demons nearly erased with a spirited 7-0 push spearheaded by a pair of Sharp buckets sandwiched around a Black 3-pointer.

Sharp’s final bucket of his 32-point performance pulled NSU within one, but the Demons could not overcome a second-chance Tennyson jumper and Black’s contested 3-pointer at the end did not fall.

“We had a situation where we played Southern Miss, and we hit a game winner,” Gipson said. “Sometimes it goes according to plan, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s how the cookie crumbled. They were deserving of this. We were not deserving of this.

“Our future is very bright. You take a program that hadn’t had a winning season in seven years. It’s bright because these young men laid it on the line. It’s not anything I did. I’ll give the staff credit. These guys take a lot from us. We put a lot on them.”

Sharp earned all-tournament honors after averaging 31.5 points and eight assists in two tournament games. Freshman Jalen Hampton notched his team-leading sixth double-double of the year (12 points, 13 rebounds) to earn all-tournament honors as well. Black added 15 on 4-for-9 shooting from 3-point range, pushing his season total to 122, second-most in SLC history.

Jackson paced Corpus with 17 points while Dease (16), Tennyson (14) and Isaac Mushila (10) also reached double figures.

— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services

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