Area College Hoop Scoop: Direction in conference races at stake

HOT HAND: Ja’Monta Black had a sensational week for Northwestern State, earning Southland Conference honors after the Demons scored a pair of road wins. (File photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

This week’s outcomes will be tonesetters for basketball teams at Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State – and the good news is that nearly all of the action comes at home.

The men’s teams from Grambling and Northwestern State are just one game off the lead in their leagues and both play twice on their homecourts. Grambling has the greatest opportunity. At 5-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Tigers host Jackson State, also 5-2, in a battle of third-place teams Saturday afternoon. Monday night, SWAC co-leader Alcorn State (6-1 in the conference) visits the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

On the women’s side, it’s Louisiana Tech with the greatest upward mobility, hosting Conference USA bottom-feeders UAB (Thursday) and UTSA (Saturday) having already beaten both on the road, although in a pair of close games. The sixth-place Techsters, hampered over the past month by an injury to junior standout Anna Larr Roberson, aren’t near the top of CUSA but can get over .500 in the league race with a sweep. 

MEN 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (12-8, 4-3 Southland) had lost six of their last eight heading on the road last week to Southeastern Louisiana (now the league co-leader at 5-2) and UNO, but Missouri State transfers and team captains Ja’Monta Black and DeMarcus Sharp led NSU to a road sweep. Black won his first Southland Player of the Week award by averaging 29.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals while sinking 14 of 29 3-pointers. Sharp, challenged by new coach (and former Missouri State assistant) Corey Gipson to be more aggressive, averaged 27 points and 6.5 assists at point guard. 

Next games: Thursday NSU hosts Houston Christian (4-3 in league play) at 8, then welcomes Lamar (2-5 in the SLC) Saturday afternoon. The Demons are in a four-way tie for third place in the 10-team league, which hits the middle of the 18-game season with Saturday’s games. 

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers (12-7, 5-2 SWAC) were impressive in an important road win Monday at UAPB, topping the Golden Lions (now 5-3 in the league) by shooting 54 percent overall, 56 percent on 3-pointers and making 20-of-22 free throws. It’s impressive when you’re in the top 10 of a list that starts with Tennessee, Houston and Alabama; Grambling leads the SWAC and is eighth in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to an average of 38.3 percent aim. They were right on that number at UAPB as Jourdan Smith rose up for 24 points. 

Next games:  The G-Men are home Saturday at 3 against Jackson State, then host Alcorn Monday at 7:30 during “Greek Weekend” on campus. There are 11 SWAC games left. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Bulldogs (11-9, 4-5 in Conference USA) had a remarkable home win last Thursday over Western Kentucky, overcoming a 12-point second half deficit to get to overtime. Once there, Tech didn’t give up a point in the extra five minutes of an 85-74 triumph. But Saturday, Middle Tennessee outshot the Bulldogs 52-39 percent in a 17-point road win. Cobe Williams continues to rank high in CUSA stats:  fourth in scoring (18.7), second in steals (2.2) and sixth in assists (4.1).

Next game:  Tech goes to UAB Thursday and UTSA on Saturday. They’re tied with UAB in the standings while the Roadrunners are 1-9.

WOMEN 

LOUISIANA TECH: The Lady Techsters (11-8, 4-5 CUSA) are poised to snap last week’s two-game skid (66-55 at Western Kentucky, 68-50 at Middle Tennessee). Roberson, who started stacking double-double games in the second half of last year, returned to the starting five at Middle for the first time since Dec. 18. Saturday’s loss was a close battle except for the start (a 10-0 MTSU burst) and finish (16-2 Middle run).

Next games: Home twice, Thursday night at 6 facing UAB and Saturday afternoon at 1 against UTSA. Both visitors are 2-7 in CUSA including losses at home to the Techsters. There are 11 games to go in conference play.

GRAMBLING:  The Lady TIgers (5-13, 4-3) fell 64-57 Monday night at UAPB despite a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) by Phylicia Allen.

Next games: Grambling is home Saturday at 12:30 against league-leading Jackson State, then meets Alcorn Monday at 5:30 at the Hobdy Center.

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (7-10, 3-4) suffered a bad loss Saturday at UNO, falling to a team with only three wins playing without its head coach, who had a death in the family. NSU has dropped two straight on the heels of a three-game win streak, but is 6-2 at home, a good omen this week. In her final collegiate season (the first three at Grambling, where she scored 501 points), Candice Parramore passed the 1,000-point career mark on a 3-pointer. It’s her second season at NSU.

Next games:  Home Thursday at 5:30 against Houston Christian (4-3 in the SLC) and Saturday at 1 when Lamar (2-5) visits.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com