Sharp’s shooting helps streaking Demons hand USM first defeat

THERE WAS ONE TO COME: DeMarcus Sharp gestures to the crowd following a halftime buzzer-beater Sunday. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal

NATCHITOCHES – DeMarcus Sharp’s buzzer-beater ending the first half Sunday was nice. The second delivered some much-welcomed lagniappe.

Sharp’s step-back 15-foot baseline jumper as time expired lifted Northwestern State to an 84-82 win against previously unbeaten Southern Miss inside Prather Coliseum on Sunday.

“Growing up, I dreamed of stuff like this, having the ball in my hands at the end of a game and icing it by hitting shots like that,” said Sharp, who collected his second straight 30-plus-point performance, finishing with a game-high 32 points on the heels of 34 Wednesday in a 102-96 victory at Stephen F. Austin.

“I honestly can say I work on those and tonight it showed. I hit one in JUCO against my (current) teammate Majok (Kuath). It was at the end of the first half, but I’d never hit a game-winner.”

Sharp’s jumper capped a back-and-forth finish to yet another close game for the Demons (7-2), who won their sixth straight game and dumped USM from a group of 15 undefeated teams around the country.

The Demons and Golden Eagles (8-1) swapped the lead 16 times, including six times in the final 6:45 as Northwestern continued its non-conference pattern of playing close games.

With the victory, Northwestern improved to 6-1 in games decided by 10 or fewer points and 4-1 in games decided by five points or less.

Sharp’s game-winner came from a different spot but it was the same result he had as he dribbled out the first-half clock before sinking a jumper at the top of the key to give the Demons a 40-39 lead.

So when he took the ball with over 10 seconds left in an 82-all tie, the NSU team and coaches knew they had what they needed.

“200 (percent),” fellow guard Ja’Monta Black said of the Demons’ confidence level in Sharp’s late-game play. “I knew that was game. When he did that step-back, I knew it was over.”

Southern Miss rode the inside duo of DeAndre Pinckney (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Felipe Haase (23 points) to shoot 56.7 percent from the field in the second half.

Haase had 16 of his points in the second half as the Golden Eagles big man worked both inside and out effectively in the final 20 minutes.

Every time Haase scored, it seemed the Demons had an answer in the form of Sharp, Isaac Haney (16 points), Black (15) or Reggie Hill (13).

Hill had a pivotal 3-pointer to square the game at 73 with 4:17, forging one of the game’s 11 ties. Hill logged a career-high 32 minutes in part because Dayne Prim, the Demons’ fourth-leading scorer at 11 points per game, missed the game because of a concussion suffered in Thursday’s win at Stephen F. Austin.

“Coach (Corey Gipson) preaches (fighting through adversity),” Sharp said. “The players, we show that. We’ve shown we can overcome anything. We don’t let anything get between us winning.”

Few on the NSU roster have shown that more than Sharp, who saw his 2021-22 season at Missouri State cut short after eight games because of injury.

“You can see the trust the players have in him,” Gipson said. “They didn’t have any doubt when he had the ball. You could see how they made sure he got the ball. You could see how they understood the spacing. It goes hand in hand.

“He is one of the best players in the country. He’s not the only one on this team who’s a bad, bad boy, but he is one of the best in the country and he just put everybody on notice.”

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