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Men’s college basketball: NSU hits stride in second half, slides past UIW

by Russell Hedges

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

SAN ANTONIO – Throughout the season, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team has received timely contributions from the entirety of its roster.

Few nights, however, have seen so many deliver so much as Thursday night at Incarnate Word.

The Demons overcame a slow offensive start by getting production deep into their bench and hounded the Cardinals from tip to buzzer on defense, holding on for a 71-66 win that forged a first-place tie with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi atop the Southland Conference standings.

“Both teams were very good defensively the first half,” first-year head coach Corey Gipson said. “I think both teams shot about 30 percent in the first half. I was very impressed with how they defended and very pleased with our guys and how we defended. The second half, both teams started to wither a little bit, and we found an offensive breakthrough that worked and gave a little different twist to the game. I want to pay homage to them. They played a very stellar game, and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with moving forward in the future.”

Northwestern State (20-9, 12-4) notched their first 20-win season since the 2012-13 campaign by finding its footing in the second half.

Trailing by three at the half, the Demons started the final 20 minutes with a 10-2 surge and hit six of their first eight shots from the field. By contrast, it took NSU until Cedric Garrett’s 3-pointer at the 8:16 mark of the first half to hit their sixth field goal of the game.

Garrett finished with six points and grabbed four rebounds in a season-high 21:34 of playing time, lending credence to the importance of roster depth.

“I just wanted to come in and defend, bring that defensive edge,” Garrett said. “I want to make sure we finish the season strong, because we’re right there. Every day, coach says, ‘We need two new players in March,’ and March is approaching.”

Garrett’s first-half 3-pointer was part of an inverted offensive half for the Demons, who saw 16 of their first 17 points come from the bench, including eight from Dayne Prim. NSU entered Thursday’s game averaging 17.9 bench points per game – a number it surpassed with 18 first-half bench points. Included in that total were two huge Jordan Wilmore dunks and a three-point play from Greedy Williams that stood as NSU’s first bucket of the game at the 12:51 mark of the first half.

Along with the Demons’ defense, which held UIW to 37.5-percent shooting in the first half, NSU’s bench kept it afloat before the starters began clicking offensively in the second half.

DeMarcus Sharp tapped into his second-half Sharp persona, scoring 13 of his team-leading 16 points after halftime. Sharp connected on two key buckets in the final 1:57, helping the Demons weather a comeback attempt from the Cardinals (11-18, 5-11). 

“You just know it’s happening,” said Isaac Haney, who had 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to snap a 45-all tie and put the Demons ahead to say. “I’m standing in the corner one time telling him, ‘Take us home.’ This is what he’s worked for a long time. Nobody knows how hard that guy works. When the ball’s in his hands, I’m extremely confident. My two 3s never happen without the attention he draws. He’s the guy who really makes us go.”

The Demons shot a sizzling 63 percent in the second half, sinking 17 of 27 shots, and finished the game hitting 51.9 percent from the field.

In addition to Sharp’s output, Haney finished with 14 points while Jalen Hampton added 11, helping offset a game-high 22 points from Jonathan Cisse.

The Demons conclude their final regular-season road trip of the 2022-23 season Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with the winner earning at least a share of the Southland Conference regular-season title. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m. at the American Bank Center.

— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services

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