By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal
LAKE CHARLES – Northwestern State’s eighth appearance in a Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game could not have started better, or ended more painfully.
For the second straight game, the Demons blitzed their opponent early, building a double-digit lead in the first half, this time against top-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – the regular-season champions and the 2022 tournament winners.
The Islanders leaned on that postseason experience, shook off the loss of Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Terrion Murdix to an early injury, and rallied past Northwestern State for a 75-71 victory inside the Legacy Center on Wednesday that denied the second-seeded Demons their first conference tournament crown since 2013.
The Islanders (23-10) advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Demons (22-11) may find their way into another postseason tourney after their most successful season in a decade.
Just as it happened in Tuesday night’s semifinal win against New Orleans, Northwestern blistered the nets, sinking its first four 3-pointers – two each by Ja’Monta Black and Isaac Haney – and built a 12-point lead less than eight minutes into the game.
The lead grew to 16 just past the halfway mark of the first half when DeMarcus Sharp, the league’s Player and Newcomer of the Year, hit a step-back jumper to put the Demons up 26-10 with 9:46 remaining in the half.
That’s when Owen Dease awakened the Islanders.
A 6-foot-8 freshman who had hit 6 of 35 3-pointers on the season, Dease hit both of his 3-point attempts in the first half, sparking Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s 21-5 run across the final 9:46 of the half, tying the game at the break.
“Guys on that team who hadn’t played much or been very productive throughout the year, they found a way to activate themselves and do a job to pull back from behind,” said first-year NSU coach Corey Gipson. “That’s impressive.”
Corpus built its largest lead of the game – the first of three separate eight-point edges with 4:50 to play on a Trevian Tennyson jumper. Again, NSU fought back, scoring six straight points all involving Sharp, who scored four and fed Greedy Williams for a layup to cut the lead to two.
Tournament MVP Jalen Jackson’s layup with 1:36 gave the Islanders their final eight-point lead, one the Demons nearly erased with a spirited 7-0 push spearheaded by a pair of Sharp buckets sandwiched around a Black 3-pointer.
Sharp’s final bucket of his 32-point performance pulled NSU within one, but the Demons could not overcome a second-chance Tennyson jumper and Black’s contested 3-pointer at the end did not fall.
Sharp earned all-tournament honors after averaging 31.5 points and eight assists in two tournament games. Freshman Jalen Hampton notched his team-leading sixth double-double of the year (12 points, 13 rebounds) to earn all-tournament honors as well. Black added 15 on 4-for-9 shooting from 3-point range, pushing his season total to 122, second-most in SLC history.
Contact Jason at email@example.com