Northwestern State’s buzzer beater caps wild win at SLC-leading Nicholls
THIBODAUX – On a night when Northwestern State survived 28 turnovers, avoiding No. 29 led to the game-winning play Wednesday in Stopher Gymnasium.
Freshman Nikos Chougkaz recovered a lost ball near the top of the key, tossing the ball to junior Chudier Bile as Bile buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift NSU to a 73-72 win at Nicholls.
Bile raced across the Nicholls “N” at midcourt, arms outstretched, followed by a host of Demons as NSU (7-9, 4-3 Southland Conference) knocked off the SLC -leading Colonels (11-7, 5-2 SLC) for the first time in five tries.
“I saw Nikos push the ball, and my man went to help. I spotted up, he passed me the ball and it went in,” said Bile, who had made just 3-of-12 before the buzzer-beater and had eight turnovers with five assists. “This gives us a lot of confidence coming in here and beating the number one team at home, and now we’re 4-3 in conference.”
The game featured wild swings of momentum that had NSU rushing out to a 16-point lead in the first half. Nicholls erased an NSU 13-point lead and led by five early in the second half.
“This is the toughest and hardest that we’ve played in several years,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy, whose Demons snapped a four-game Nicholls winning streak in the series. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we competed and outrebounded them (by 28).
“We continued to fight through it. We were up 16, we were down by five, up by 10, then we were down. But we came back. We have to get fundamentally tougher, but we rebounded extremely well and that gave us a shot.”
Junior Jairus Roberson sustained NSU through a second-half scoring drought by accounting for the Demons’ first eight points.
Roberson scored a career-high 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Roberson said. “In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘I’m tired of losing.’
“I wasn’t myself at the beginning of the season, but I’ve adjusted, and we didn’t want to lose anymore. We can’t get too high because we have a week to get ready for (Stephen F. Austin), and we want to be ready.”
Roberson and junior John Norvel, who missed the past two games with injuries, combined for NSU’s first 22 points of the second half. Roberson scored 16 points and Norvel had six of his season-high 10 points.
Nicholls led 72-68 with just 11 seconds remaining, but Chougkaz dunked with six seconds left to cut the lead to two.
Nicholls’ Kevin Johnson, an 84 percent free-throw shooter, missed both attempts, leading to the Bile buzzer beater.
The game showcased 10 lead changes – all in the second half – in one of the wildest games in recent NSU memory.
The antidote for NSU’s 28 turnovers, which turned into 29 Colonels’ points, was the Demons’ domination on the boards.
NSU outrebounded Nicholls 55-27, including 17 offensive rebounds. NSU’s bench outscored Nicholls 42-15.
Bile recorded his third straight double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds) and fifth of the season, joined by sophomore Trenton Massner (10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds). Chougkaz added nine rebounds.
“I’ve learned that if we really understand how to play together and make the extra pass, which we did early in the game and stretches in the second half, we can be pretty good,” McConathy said. “We can’t get locked into just dribbling it or not being tough with the ball.
“But we got huge minutes from John Norvel. If I had to give somebody an award tonight, I’d give it to Norvel because he and Jairus Roberson helped keep us in it in the second half.”
In the first half, NSU roared to a 15-4 lead behind 3-pointers from Massner, and Norvel with four points from freshman Jovan Zelenbaba.
With Nicholls shooting under 20 percent, NSU stretched its lead to 24-8 with a 9-0 run as the Demons successfully pushed the tempo.
The Demons made 10-of-24 from 3-point range overall.
But the Colonels made a late charge, cutting a 13-point NSU with three minutes to 34-29 as Nicholls closed the half on a 10-2 run.
NSU is off Saturday but will begin a homestand with four of the next five games in Prather Coliseum, starting Wednesday with SFA in an “Orange Out.”
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