Young Demons show flashes of progress but 3-point barrage by Rice was overwhelming

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NATCHITOCHES – There was enough good to build on, agreed Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy and two of his veterans, although the Demons couldn’t withstand a 3-point barrage that carried visiting Rice to an 87-65 victory at Prather Coliseum Friday night.

The Owls, who won 23 games last year, drained four 3-pointers in a 14-0 eruption over three minutes after NSU narrowed a 12-point halftime deficit to six points with 14:26 remaining. Cashaw Conner, who scored a game-high 27 points, started the run with a trey and added a jumper sandwiched between the other 3-pointers, a pair coming from 18-point scorer A.J. Lapray.

That burst extended to an 18-2 run over four minutes, capped by another Lapray trey, surging the Owls (1-2) to a commanding 65-43 advantage with 10 minutes to go. The Demons (0-4) never got closer than 16 points afterward.

Ishmael Lane’s 14 points topped NSU, with 13 coming from Devonte Hall, 12 by Iziahiah Sweeney and 11 from Darian Dixon. In his return after 743 days away from in-season competition due to a pair of knee injuries, Jalan West handed out four assists and scored four points.

Rice shot 57 percent overall, starting with 59 percent first-half aim, and sank half of its 22 tries from behind the 3-point arc. The Owls outrebounded their hosts 40-30 while both teams struggled handling the ball, with 22 turnovers by Rice and 20 from NSU.

Veteran Demon coach Mike McConathy was encouraged by how his team bounced back from Wednesday night’s 81-35 defeat at SMU.

“I feel a lot better about where we are, what we did. We had some moments tonight that were very positive,” said McConathy. “Ishmael Lane in the second half did some good work, and several other guys did too. Larry Owens got seven rebounds, for example.

“We just didn’t have enough consistent play on offense to withstand that barrage of 3-pointers. Either that’s not finding shooters or not talking and communicating defensively,” said McConathy. “Otherwise defensively we did some OK things, but you can’t let a disciplined team get into their flow, and that happened.”

The Demons shot miserably in the first half, just 21 percent (5-24) from the floor. But they sank 52 percent afterward and defensively finished with 10 steals, four by Hall.

McConathy said he’s counting on his team, the fourth-youngest squad in the country, to keep the faith.

“We seem to be searching. What are we trying to find? Consistency. The last time we were this unsteady was 2002, when we had 11 freshmen. But we’ll get through this and we’ll become successful.”

Lane, who included a 3-pointer among his 6-for-8 shooting performance, saw plenty to build upon.

“We’re going to get it together. Rome wasn’t built in one day, so we just take it one day at a time, work on our errors, and eventually get the W,” said the 6-8 junior center. “Our effort was really good. The team never gave up, despite the score, and we kept fighting until the end. That will pay off.”

Hall broke out of a 1-for-25 shooting slump in the first three games, hitting half of his four 3-point shots and all five of his free throws. He saw flashes from NSU’s six freshmen, including Dixon.

“We really, really defended at times, and it brought out our competitive nature. We made some progress tonight,” said the senior guard. “We’ve just got to lead our freshmen and do things to help them get their confidence.”

The Demons get their longest stretch between games so far this season before going on the road to play at UL Monroe Tuesday, then traveling to Colorado State for a contest next Friday night.

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