Women’s Basketball — Johnson’s career night helps Lady Demons stopslide against Sam Houston State

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NATCHITOCHES – The last two-plus seconds of Wednesday’s game had Jordan Dupuy holding his breath.

When Rachel Harrell’s last-ditch, half-court heave ricocheted off the rim, Dupuy could breathe again after his Northwestern State women’s basketball team held on for a 63-60 Southland Conference victory against Sam Houston State inside Prather Coliseum.

“I think I held my breath all the way through the line after the game,” Dupuy said. “I thought with our luck, it was going in. We did a lot of good things, but we also did a lot of things that allowed them to keep the game close. We never stopped fighting, but we have to do a better job of understanding time and situation.”

Trailing by four entering the fourth quarter, the Lady Demons (6-11, 1-5) ended a roller-coaster game on top thanks to what they did earlier in the final 10 minutes against a Sam Houston (3-12, 0-6) team looking for its first conference victory.

Down three points with 5:14 to play, Libba Gilliam tied the game with a three-point play to tie the game and setting in motion a 12-4 run that gave the Lady Demons a five-point lead with 4.6 seconds to play.

A late foul allowed Akarian Morgan to hit two free throws and a botched inbounds play left Harrell with her last-second heave from just inside the half-court line.

A career night from sophomore Jasmyn Johnson and a couple of key buckets from an unexpected source put the Lady Demons in position to end their five-game slide.

Johnson tallied a career-high 21 points and set another career best with six of Northwestern State’s 17 steals. One of those steals set in motion a fast-break layup by Nautica Grant (14 points) that tied the game at 58 with 2:04 to play.

“I just felt it today,” said Johnson, who shot 8 for 14 from the field, including 4 for 8 from 3-point range. “I let it go every time I had a chance.”

During its five-game losing streak, Dupuy lamented NSU often failing to do the little things that lead to victories. The Lady Demons took a step forward in that category Wednesday night.

A Jada Freeman offensive rebound led to a Grant layup that put Northwestern State ahead to stay with 1:07 to play.

Gilliam knocked down all seven of her free throws, including two with 11 seconds left that made it a two possession game, and grabbed a huge defensive rebound with 48 seconds to play.

“I’ve always been pretty good at free throws,” said Gilliam, who has hit 27 straight free throws to open her junior season. “I make it a point in practice to knock them down. In a game, I just take a breath and think that It’s an easy shot, so I should make it.”

The biggest contributions may have come from one of Johnson’s fellow sophomores.

“Two of the biggest shots of the game came from someone people don’t talk about, Victoria Miller,” Dupuy said. “She had two buckets that really swung the momentum. She had a big offensive rebound and made a layup that put us ahead (48-47). Then, there were about four minutes left, our offense broke down and she nailed an 18-footer.”

That jumper by Miller evened the game at 56, the sixth tie of the game and one of three ties in the final 5:14 of the game.

It also led to better execution down the stretch for the Lady Demons, who shook off a 7-0 run by the Bearkats to start the second half.

“It came down to realizing what we needed to do to win,” Dupuy said. “Any victory doesn’t have a lot to do with coaching. They decide to make the plays and do the extra things to win. It wasn’t all there, but it was enough to pull it out. I told them to enjoy it for a while, and in the morning we’ll have a good lift and get ready for Southeastern (Louisiana) on Saturday.”

The Lady Demons play their next two games on the road, beginning with a Saturday visit to Southeastern Louisiana. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at the University Center in Hammond.

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