Northwestern St. opens Southland play hosting McNeese St. - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Northwestern St. opens Southland play hosting McNeese St.

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[Information provided by Northwestern St.]

NATCHITOCHES – Old rivals who appear to be Southland Conference basketball championship contenders tip off the 2013 league race in Prather Coliseum Thursday night as Northwestern State plays host to McNeese State in a 7:30 contest.

Both teams are 6-4 heading into the 18-game Southland schedule. The matchup will follow a 5:30 women's game between the schools, marking a return to the Thursday-Saturday doubleheader format across the conference.

"I think the conference race is wide open and we fit into the mix of teams that should contend," said 14th-year Demons head coach Mike McConathy. "So does McNeese. They've been impressive especially lately."

The Cowboys have won five of their last six games, including sweeping state foes Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech, and surprising Texas Tech on the road. Their only loss since November came in their last game, Dec. 22 at North Carolina.

The Demons are the nation's fourth-highest scoring team with an 85.3 average led by a balanced attack with four players tightly bunched atop the stat sheet. Junior forward DeQuan Hicks is scoring 13.7 points per game and ranks 28th nationally by shooting 59.1 percent from the field. Redshirt freshman guard Jalan West averages 13.6 points and has three national rankings: 47th in assists per game (5.1), 49th in steals (2.4) and 71st in assist/turnover ratio (plus 3.0).

Two Preseason All-Southland selections are making major contributions. Senior guard Shamir Davis owns a 13.5 scoring average and senior forward James Hulbin is at 11.8 with a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. Hicks is right behind with a 6.3 rebounding average.

The Demons rank 16th nationally in blocks pg (5.5), 41st in steals (9.7 pg), 52nd in shooting aim (46.9 percent), 58th in assists average (15.9), and 86th in scoring margin (12.5). McConathy thinks his team ought to have another win or two.

"We played and competed in those four losses (at LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Arkansas), and could have won three of them if we'd been a little better," said McConathy. "We didn't play well at A&M and didn't have an opportunity to win (in a 78-65 defeat). I feel really strongly about where we're at, though, and that's good because we have a tough stretch of five opening games in the conference over the next two weeks."

The contest pits McConathy's Demons against former assistant Dave Simmons, who helped NSU to NCAA Tournament wins in 2001 and 2006. Simmons took over as head coach of the Cowboys in 2006-07.

"Dave is a great coach. He was with us here for seven years and that was one of the biggest reasons we were successful as we were," said McConathy. "The McNeese games are the toughest for me personally because of how we feel about Dave, and because he knows us so well."

All five projected starters for McNeese are scoring in double figures. Leading the way are a couple of sophomore forwards, Craig McFerrin (14.0 ppg) and Desharick Guidry (12.6 ppg). Guidry also leads the team and ranks No. 1 in the league and 40th nationally in rebounding with 9.3 per game.

Senior guard Dontae Cannon is chipping in with 12.1 points followed by senior guard Jeremie Mitchell (10.8) and sophomore guard Kevin Hardy (10.3).

"They're very talented. Dontae Cannon and Craig McFerrin are really fine players and they rebound it very well led by Desharick Guidry," said McConathy. "Their balance is another attribute of a very good team."

The game broadcast will be carried by the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches and including 92.1 KSYR FM in Shreveport and 99.9 KTEZ FM in Many. The audio will be streamed free at NSUDemons.com with a video stream including audio available for subscribers.

Saturday, Northwestern wraps up a busy week as it hosts Lamar in a 1 o'clock league doubleheader that will be the fourth game in seven days for the Demons.

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