By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – On a night when he tallied a career high in points, Isaac Haney saved arguably his biggest moment on the defensive end Thursday night.
Haney drew a charge with 3.8 seconds to play and hit the first of the Demons’ three late free throws as Northwestern State erased a double-digit, second-half deficit to rally past Southeastern, 81-76, in Southland Conference play, collecting its ninth straight win in the process.
“That was big-time,” said first-year head coach Corey Gipson, whose team is on the program’s longest win streak since the 2012-13 season. “We call it ‘show the blow.’ He didn’t flop. He waited for the contact, and he showed the blow. That’s a very strong, physical guy he was guarding (Boogie Anderson). We had to rotate some different bodies on him, but in that moment, Haney wanted that moment. He wanted to get that stop.
“Collectively, I was proud of how we banded together, but Haney showing the blow and selling out was big time.”
By taking the charge with his team up one, Haney helped the Demons (19-8, 11-3) remain in a first-place tie with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which won at Nicholls on Thursday.
While his defensive moment saved the game, it was his career-best scoring performance that allowed the Demons to battle back from a 13-point, second-half deficit.
A sophomore from West Plains, Missouri, Haney finished with 23 points, including a five-point burst in 34 seconds that began to whittle down the Lions’ lead.
Southeastern (14-13, 8-6) built as much as a 14-point, first-half lead on the strength of a blistering opening 20 minutes in which it shot 60.7 percent from the field and sank five of seven 3-pointers. Meanwhile, NSU was just 2-for-13 from 3-point range in the opening half, part of a start in which the Demons shot just 38.2 percent from the field (13-for-34).
“We shouldn’t have to wait 37 or whatever minutes it was to get to that point,” Haney said. “We’ve got to go back and look at the film as a team and individually and see what was going wrong on the defensive end. Right now, without watching the film, I don’t feel like I did my job.”
While Haney set the table for the Demons’ comeback, it was DeMarcus Sharp who again played the role of closer.
Sharp had 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, shooting 7-for-9 from the field and handing out five second-half assists. He was at his absolute best down the stretch as the Demons used an 13-0 run across 4:27 to erase SLU’s final 10-point advantage, which came on Anderson’s three-point play with 7:28 to play.
Sharp scored or assisted on 11 of the points in the surge, which gave NSU its first lead since the 19:26 mark of the first half, and answered Roger McFarlane’s run-stopping bucket with another jumper to re-establish a three-point lead with 2:51 to play.
“I know what I have to do, and I go out night in and night out and just do it,” said Sharp, who finished with game highs in assists (6) and blocks (2) while shooting 11-for-18 from the field. “Coach tells me every day to be aggressive and be the captain I am and lead these boys and do the right stuff. Every game we learn different stuff about us.
“One thing we know, when stuff doesn’t go our way, we lean on each other. We’re brothers on and off the court and it shows.”
Sharp was joined in the second-half scoring parade by freshman Jalen Hampton, who had 12 of his 14 points in the final 20 minutes. Hampton added 11 rebounds to collect his team-leading fifth double-double of the season.
Down the stretch, Sharp found Hampton on back-to-back possessions for a tie-breaking, three-point play and a bucket that re-established a three-point NSU advantage.
“He’s the best passer I’ve played with,” Hampton said of Sharp. “It’s easier playing with somebody who can pass it like him. It helps me a lot, knowing down the stretch he’s comfortable giving me the ball. That boosts my confidence.”
Each team had four players reach double figures. Sharp, Haney, Hampton and Ja’Monta Black (11) cracked the mark for NSU while SLU had three players – Anderson, Alec Woodard and Nick Caldwell — finish with 16 points while McFarlane finished with 11.
The Demons cap their season-long, three-game homestand Saturday when they host New Orleans. Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services