By Brad Welborn, Northwestern State Assistant Sports Information Director
LAKE CHARLES – For three quarters Northwestern State had nearly everything clicking on both ends of the floor and were poised for an upset win on the first day of the Southland Conference Tournament.
The final 10 minutes however left the Lady Demons (11-18) with a feeling of disappointment as Texas A&M-Commerce (13-18) exerted its size and effort on the glass to come away with a 79-66 win to eliminate NSU from the tournament bracket.
“I think we played a tremendous basketball game for three quarters,” head coach Anna Nimz said. “They came out and fought hard, executed and played with some real composure in the first half.
“I don’t think we were overly focused coming out in that third quarter, got it within a one-point game and just had a drop off in the fourth. We gave up 16 second-chance points and got outrebounded by 24 and that’s just really hard to come back from.”
NSU won or were even with the Lions in nearly every category in the game, except for two critical ones – rebounds and free throws.
Commerce had a 45-21 advantage on the glass in the game, including a 15-5 edge in offensive rebounds and a 17-4 dominance in the fourth quarter alone. Their increased time of possession led to 34 total trips to the free throw line, compared to 13 for NSU. The Lions went 26-for-34 from the stripe in the game, NSU was 11-for-13.
NSU trailed by three after the first quarter, 18-15, after a solid opening few minutes and settling into the game. The second quarter is when things took off for the Demons, through the sharp-shooting of Jiselle Woodson.
The starting point guard turned into the primary offensive option for the Demons by scoring eight straight points in a minute and a half of the quarter on a layup and back-to-back 3-pointers.
She scored 14 in the second quarter and helped carry the Demons to 38-37 half time lead after a Sharna Ayres triple but NSU up with less than a minute to go.
Woodson went 5-for-7 from the field in the quarter and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc on her way to a record-setting performance. Woodson did not miss a 3-pointer the rest of the game tying a conference tournament record with seven made 3-pointers and setting the tournament record for 3-point shooting percentage (.875) by going 7-for-8 from beyond the arc in the game.
“Everybody in the building could see she was hot and the girls did a nice job of recognizing where she was on the floor and make that extra pass to get her the ball,” Nimz said. “There was a lot of selfless basketball out there for us today and that made it such a good game for us until that fourth quarter.”
Behind Woodson’s career shooting night, the Demons were able to build their largest lead of the game of 56-49 on a Joelle Johnson jumper with 2:14 left in the third quarter. NSU took a 57-53 lead into the fourth quarter after a late Lion layup, one of just two field goals the defense allowed in the final five minutes of the quarter.
“We have a really strong bond as a team,” Woodson said. “We have a few things to critique and get better at in the offseason but when we’re hot, we’re hot and we can do a lot of really good things.”
Commerce took the lead back early in the fourth with five quikc points, but the Demons were able to keep the game close with Woodson reaching the 30-point mark with a another 3-pointer to make it a 63-62 game with just over five minutes to go.
NSU was unable to score for the next three minutes, allowing Commerce to stretch the lead to eight. A turnaround shot from Johnson in the lane made a two possession game with two minutes left, but made Lion free throws and missed Demons shots ballooned the score to the final 79-66 margin.
The Demons were shooting 50 percent from the field entering the fourth quarter, before hitting the cold stretch of a 3-for-16 final 10 minutes.
Woodson finished with a career-high 32 points, the first player to score 30 points in a game since Kira Bonner in the 2019-20 season. Parramore finished her NSU career with 13 straight double-digit scoring games, finishing with 10 points in the game.
She also became the first player in nearly 30 years to make 100 free throws in consecutive seasons, finishing with 103 conversions this year.
“This team has fight, fire in them and love for one another,” Nimz said. “We didn’t win today but its just the beginning. We’re in year two of this rebuild and we’ve told them a thousand times we believe, doesn’t mean they always like how it comes out, but we believe in them. We get fiery because when you see your kids not live up to their abilities its tough. When each of them reflect on this season I pray they know that we believed in them and we loved them.”
— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services