Northwestern State frontcourt aims to repeat improvement from last season

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NATCHITOCHES – Improved defense and rebounding in the front court was key to Northwestern State’s return to the Southland Conference Tournament this past season.

Four of NSU’s six front court members return, and the ability to replicate those improvements will be a factor in the Demons building on their 15-15 record (11-9 in SLC play) and winning its first-round tournament game before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“I was concerned about our rebounding heading into last year, but we ended up rebounding the ball pretty well,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, who enters his 22nd season on the Demons’ bench. “It’s an area of concern this year, too, and we’ll have to replace two good rebounders.

“But we do have guys that have been here before and produced. We’ll need these guys to play well to meet our goals of contending for a league title.”

Senior Jamaure Gregg leads a relatively experienced front line that includes senior Larry Owens and junior Dalin Williams.

Gregg blossomed toward the end of the season as he averaged nearly eight points and six rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-7 forward had two of his best three scoring and rebounding outputs in his final six games.

“Jamaure really figured it out in his second year at Cochise College (Ariz.), and he started to really figure it out at the end of last year,” McConathy said. “We’re still looking for more vocal leadership from our group, but Jamaure shows up to work every day and leads by example.”

Gregg also contributed to one of NSU’s defensive strengths this past season – shot blocking.

He redirected 20 shots, but NSU will need to fill holes left by Chudier Bile (41 blocks to pair with 14 points and eight rebounds per game) and Nikos Chougkaz (30 blocks with nine points and seven rebounds per game).

Owens made 15 starts this past season and 32 for his career. The 6-foot-8 center is nimble at 300 pounds and creates matchup issues.

Williams has 50 appearances and 11 career starts and adds a hustle factor that manifests itself in offensive putbacks and rebounds.

Sophomore Robert Chougkaz saw the floor sparingly as a freshman, but this 6-foot-9 swing player has taken significant strides preparing for his second season.

“These guys are coming along,” McConathy said. “Larry is playing himself into shape and can be a difference maker. Dalin has had a great preseason, and he’s gotten a lot more reps because he doesn’t have a morning class three days each week that forced him to miss a lot of practice.

“Robert has a chance to flourish, and he passes and shoots extremely well. The biggest part for him has been physically down in the post. These guys can really position us well if they can take it to the next level.”

Freshman Kendal Coleman is expected to be a defensive stalwart at 6-foot-8.

The Captain Shreve product led the state in blocks as a junior and the district as a senior, and McConathy said Coleman is adjusting to the college game.

“We lost long guys who could block shots (in Bile and Nikos Chougkaz), but we got one in Kendal, and he may be the best shot blocker of the three,” McConathy said. “It’s going to be the feel of the game for Kendal.

“We’ve got to be better defensively as a whole, even though we did improve last year. Defense and rebound are two concerns, but scoring won’t be. If we run the floor, get into open spaces and catch and shoot, we’ll be fine.”

NSU did outrebound its opponents by one rebound per game and hold its opponents to just 41 percent shooting from the field.

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