Rally in stretch falls short for Demons in 78-69 loss at ACU

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ABILENE, Texas – Abilene Christian, the NCAA’s sixth-best 3-point shooting team, had high-value baskets from distance combined with a conventional three-point play Saturday night to head off a furious rally by Northwestern State.

The Wildcats, who led by 22 early after halftime, weathered the comeback after the Demons drew within nine, and that burst kept the visitors at bay until the final seconds of a 78-69 ACU victory.

ACU (16-3 overall, 5-1 in the Southland Conference) sank 8 of 20 behind the arc, a shade below its season rate of 41.4 percent. The most impactful were 3-pointers by game-high 19-point scorer B.J. Maxwell with 5:57 left for a 66-53 lead, followed on the next possession by a trey from Peyton Ricks to open a 16-point advantage with 5:19 to go.

“That was critical. We kept fighting, they couldn’t put us away, but those two 3-pointers kept the game from getting really tight,” said 20th-year NSU head coach Mike McConathy. “This is a very well seasoned, well coached ACU team that made veteran decisions and veteran plays to keep us at arm’s length, when we were playing especially well in the final 10-12 minutes. You can’t credit them enough.”

NSU (7-11 overall, 2-3 in the Southland) ran off 10 straight points, the last on a three-point play by Ishmael Lane, to draw within 58-49 with 7:33 remaining. But ACU’s Jalone Friday, who scored 17, answered with a three-point play of his own 14 seconds later and the Demons didn’t get back within single-digits until the final 10 seconds.

But they looked ready to pounce when Lane drained a pair of free throws on the next trip downcourt to make it a 10-point deficit. Lane blocked an ACU shot, but the Wildcats’ Friday issued a rejection as NSU tried to draw closer, and then the back-to-back treys widened the margin.

Abilene scored the game’s first seven points on the way to a quick 14-3 advantage, sinking 6 of 11 from distance in the first half while the Demons missed their first 10 before Malik Metoyer dropped in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to make it 44-28 ACU.

“We didn’t come out and play with the same effort we’ve had all season, and that’s frustrating. We didn’t find the full throttle until the second half, and it’s just hard to understand,” said McConathy. “We never had any synch offensively and you have to give ACU credit from some of that.

“You can’t miss opportunities against a good team. Case in point, they missed a free throw down the stretch, but we got in the lane too early and they got another chance, and converted. Moments like that add up,” he said.

The Demons were without injured (wrist) senior guard DeAndre Love, who scored 16 in NSU’s last game, a 61-59 win last Saturday at Stephen F. Austin. LaTerrence Reed led NSU with 16 points;, while Lane, freshman Brian White and sophomore Vonte Ott all scored 12.

Lane was scoreless until the game’s last nine minutes. He snagged 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season and 18th in his four years at NSU.

Ott’s dozen points came in 15 minutes and were accompanied by five rebounds by the sophomore guard. White contributed four steals.

“Vonte Ott played really hard and quite well on his birthday, with his dad in the stands, which was extra special. He makes things happen,” said McConathy. “When we got in gear, we got some really good production from several guys and great effort from everyone. Hopefully we can carry that over next week.”

NSU is home for games Wednesday night against league leading Sam Houston State and next Saturday when Southeastern Louisiana visits for an afternoon doubleheader.

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