Nicholls drubs turnover-prone NSU

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THIBODAUX – The fifth-youngest team in college basketball looked the part in its Southland Conference opener Thursday night.

Visiting Northwestern State, with only two players in action who took part in a conference game last season surrounded by seven newcomers, was overwhelmed from the outset by a Nicholls squad with eight seniors, including four first-year transfers.

The Colonels forced six turnovers in the first six minutes, almost immediately opening a double-digit lead, and hit the afterburners late in the game while posting an 87-41 whipping of the Demons at Stopher Gym.

The Demons (3-8 overall, 0-1 in the Southland) played without their leading scorer and career assist leader Jalan West. The senior point guard missed the game due to personal reasons. That left two true freshmen as NSU’s primary ballhandlers, and it contributed to 26 turnovers that Nicholls converted into 42 points.

“We had more turnovers in the first half (16) than we’ve been making in games,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “It’s like they were scared to do good or bad.

“You have to give Nicholls (7-7, 1-0) a bunch of credit. We didn’t come ready to play, and meanwhile, they looked like a team that didn’t take a break over the holiday. They were super aggressive from the tip and ran their stuff very well, shot it well, defended extremely well.”

Nicholls made 47 percent of its shots, including 10 of 20 on 3-pointers, and sank 15 of 19 free throws. Northwestern sank just 28 percent overall, went 3 of 11 on 3s, and a miserable 11 of 23 at the free throw line, just 3 of 11 in the first half while falling behing 48-18.

Four Colonels scored in double figures, led by Tevon Saddler and Kimani Jack with 14. The Demons got 11 points and 10 rebounds from Ishmael Lane, who posted his 10th career double-double, his fourth this season and his third in the last five contests.

NSU did rally after halftime, outrebounding Nicholls by 14 in the final 20 minutes to win the rebounding category 44-40. Iziahiah Sweeney snagged a career-high 11 for NSU.

Eight straight points by Lane, including a pair of 3-pointers, got the visitors within 67-41 with 8:49 left, but Nicholls didn’t allow a point for the next 5:41 while scoring 10 to begin a game-ending 20-5 run.

“The margin doesn’t matter, one or 41, it hurts. It’s a loss. We’ve got to figure out how to fix it,” said McConathy. “The first step is playing harder than the opponent and we didn’t come close to that tonight. We love our kids, but at some point you’ve got to step up and compete when you face adversity.

“We are going to coach our butts off relentlessly. Obviously we’re not very good at this moment, but we can be infinitely better than what we saw tonight,” he said. “We’ve got to execute, and we have to bring a tremendous effort. Those things are within our control no matter who we’re playing.”

Nicholls snapped an eight-game Demon win streak in the series.

The Demons play their sixth consecutive road game Saturday afternoon at 3:30, taking on McNeese in Lake Charles. The Cowboys smacked Incarnate Word 85-62 at home Thursday.

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