Women’s Basketball– Nero’s season-high 28 lifts Lady Demons to Senior Day victory over UCA

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NATCHITOCHES — On Northwestern State’s Senior Day, freshman guard RaVon Nero was the catalyst for celebration Saturday, scoring a season-high 28 points as the Lady Demons overcame a 14-point first-half deficit and rallied past Central Arkansas 78-74 Saturday at Prather Coliseum.

In what turned out to be the season finale for both teams, NSU prevailed as seniors Nautica Grant (19 points, five rebounds, two steals), Sami Thomas (13 points, seven assists and just one turnover) and Libba Gilliam (11 points, six rebounds) sparkled.

The Lady Demons (11-18 overall, 6-12 in the Southland Conference) took the lead for good in the third quarter as they drained 58 percent of their shots. NSU went on top for the first time on a Nero 3-pointer with 3:28 to go in the quarter. It retained the upper hand with 13 of 17 aim after halftime on the free throw line (going 20-25 for the game, 9-10 by Nero, 5-6 by Thomas and 3-3 for Grant) while suffering only four turnovers in the final two quarters.

“I’m very proud of them,” third-year head coach Jordan Dupuy said. “We talked about at halftime these (next) 20 minutes are minutes they’ll remember for the rest of their life. Then I told them after the game, these are the 20 minutes they should remember.”

Central Arkansas (11-17, 6-12) started strong while pushing out to a 35-21 advantage, but NSU scored seven straight to end the first half, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Gillam, and cut it to 35-28 at recess.

The second half was more what the Lady Demons were looking for as they fought to stay alive in a six-team scramble for the final spots in next week’s Southland Tournament.

“Coach Dupuy came in at halftime and pulled us together and said these could be our last 20 minutes ever as a team and for sure the last 20 minutes together at Prather,” Thomas said. “We came back out in the second half wanting to go out on a good note.”

The Lady Demons posted five straight to start the second half and took their first lead on a three-point play by Grant at 46-45. Nero’s 3-pointer from the right corner erased the final edge for the Sugar Bears.

A post-up move from Nero, much like the one that was the game-winner in double overtime at Southeastern Louisiana a week earlier, put NSU on top for good, 55-53, with 34 seconds showing in the quarter.

That started a pivotal 11-2 run bridging the quarters, with five straight points by Grant, the last on a 3-pointer with 7:47 remaining, for a 64-55 advantage.

Four straight Nero free throws grew the spread to 12, 72-60, with 3:32 remaining, but in a desperate charge to salvage its postseason hopes, UCA drew within five with 1:13 left on the way to a 76-74 deficit after point guard Kamry Orr scored with 20 seconds remaining.

Fouled moving across midcourt five seconds later, Thomas calmly stepped to the line and dropped in a pair that made it a two-possession edge. Gilliam sealed the outcome with a blocked shot that teammate Jasmyn Johnson collected with seven seconds left, allowing NSU to celebrate postgame for the third time in its last five outings.

Grant scored 15 in the second half to help provide for a joyful postgame Senior Day ceremony at midcourt.

“That was all heart,” Grant said about the comeback. “I didn’t want to fail on Senior Day, and it was a great feeling for me to come back out harder in the second half to pull it off.”

The Sugar Bears came in second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 58.6 points per game. NSU’s 78 was the second-most points scored on them in conference play this season, and the Lady Demons dropped half a hundred in the final 20 minutes.

“Central Arkansas is very physical and defensive-minded, and we were able to put up 50 points on them in the second half,” Dupuy said. “It says a lot about our girls with their aggressiveness in the second half and their ability to execute.”

Hannah Langhi finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting to lead the Sugar Bears. Orr had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and added seven assists.

UCA finished with just 10 turnovers, but NSU was able to convert them into 16 points.

“I’m thankful for my time here,” Thomas said. “I love NSU and it was amazing to end it that way in my last home game.”

Outcomes elsewhere dimmed the celebration slightly, as Houston Baptist’s win at A&M-Corpus Christi was the lone obstacle between the Lady Demons and a trip to Katy next week.

But thanks to an inspired comeback to square the season series with UCA, Saturday’s finale was much more sweet than bitter.

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