Northwestern State students are nearing the end of final exams this week, while Demon basketball players face two more big tests Wednesday and Thursday nights starting with a visit to nationally-ranked Baylor.
The Demons (4-5) take on the Bears (8-1, No. 12 in the AP Top 25, No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll) Wednesday night at 8:30. They play Thursday night at 7:30 at UTEP (5-4), then head home for Christmas, not playing again until their Jan. 2 Southland Conference opener.
"They really are different teams in many respects, but they're similar in others. They're both very talented and are both very big. Both have played very high end competition and Baylor's record speaks for itself," said 15th-year Demons coach Mike McConathy, a voter on the ESPN/USA Today Top 25. "They are obviously one of the better teams in the country based on their performance."
In fact, the Basketball State website lists Baylor with the nation's No. 1 RPI. Among the Bears' wins are victories over Top 20 teams Colorado and Kentucky. Their only loss was to No. 2 Syracuse.
"Baylor will play a lot of man-to-man defense and what we call an amoeba defense, a 1-1-3 zone a lot like what Syracuse does. They've got 7-foot, 6-10 and 6-9 on their back wall and that poses some interesting challenges because we're not very big up front," said McConathy. "The key is making shots when you get them. When we do that, we are very capable."
Northwestern has the country's No. 4-ranked offense, scoring 89 points per game. The Demons are sixth in the nation in blocked shots (8 per game) and 12th in steals (10.3 per game).
Sophomore point guard Jalan West heads four double-digit scorers for NSU with his 17.6 average. He is 13th nationally in steals (2.7 per game) and 29th in assists per game (5.8).
After his sixth career double-double and third this year with a 21-point, 11-rebound performance Saturday in a 40-point rout of Louisiana College, senior forward DeQuan Hicks is averaging 15.9 point and 6.9 rebounds. Senior guard Brison White, who had a career-best 23 points against LC in 23 minutes, scores 13.1 per game while freshman guard Zeek Woodley is at 12.8 points per game.
Baylor also has four primary scorers and uses a nine-man rotation. Cory Jefferson leads the Bears with averages of 13.4 points and 8.7 rebounds while guard Brady Heslip has hit half of his 52 shots behind the 3-point arc and is averaging 11.7 points off the bench.
Baylor is outrebounding foes by 41-29 and has hit 50 percent of its shots while holding foes to 39 percent aim.
For the second time this season, Northwestern is playing twice in two nights. They won 111-92 on Nov. 15 at Auburn, then fell 88-74 the following night at LSU.
"Playing these back-to-back games is a positive thing," said McConathy. "In championship week, you have to play back-to-back games and that is the most important week of the season, so going against very good competition two nights in a row is an excellent experience that we will be able to draw upon in March."
The Demons will be without two of their better veteran players, senior guard Gary Stewart (knee surgery) and junior center Marvin Frazier (pneumonia). Both are expected to be ready to play when conference action begins.
Wednesday, August 20 2014 11:13 PM EDT2014-08-21 03:13:36 GMT
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