NATCHITOCHES, La. (AP) -- Northwestern State made up for last
year's disappointment in the Southland Conference tournament
championship game Sunday with a 95-87 victory over Sam Houston
Now the Demons have a new goal.
Last season, the Demons lost in the conference finals to
Southeastern Louisiana on their home court. Sunday's win gave
Northwestern State (25-7), the Southland Conference regular season
champion, its first trip to the NCAA tournament in five years. The
14th-seeded Demons face third-seeded Iowa in the first round.
"We are in the NCAA tournament to win a game. We're not
satisfied with just getting there," Northwestern State coach Mike
McConathy said. "This is a great opportunity, but we want to
continue. We have work to do."
The largest crowd for a basketball game in Northwestern State
history (3,930) watched the Demons build a 13-point lead midway
through the second half and then hold on in the final minutes.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Chris Jordan cut a nine-point
Northwestern State lead to 86-83 with 2:08 to play. The Bearkats
(22-9) had a chance to tie the game, but Jejuan Plair missed a
3-point shot with 1:59 to play.
"We had a lot of confidence that we would be able to pull the
game out in the last two minutes," Sam Houston coach Bob Marlin
said. "We have won games like this all year, but Northwestern
State is a team with a lot of experience."
Clifton Lee, who finished with 22 points, made two free throws
to increase the lead to 88-83 and Plair countered with his fifth
3-pointer of the game, getting Sam Houston within 88-86 with 1:42
Luke Rogers made two free throws with 1:11 to play and Lee added
another to get the lead to 91-86 with 48 seconds to play. Sam
Houston missed its final three field goal attempts and had two
turnovers in the last 50 seconds.
Plair finished with 23 points, while Ryan Bright and John
Gardiner each had 17 for Sam Houston.
"This team has come a long way," Wallace said. "Three years
ago, we were all freshmen and went 6-21 and not many people were
paying attention to us. But we stuck together as a team and have
become like brothers."