Few tandems in college basketball last season were as productive as Northwestern State guards Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, and with both players returning Mike McConathy’s Demons were seen as the biggest threat to two-time defending champion Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference. Tuesday afternoon the program announced news that will undoubtedly impact it’s pursuit of an NCAA tournament berth, with a torn ACL ending West’s season after just one game.
West suffered the injury in the final minute of Northwestern State’s season opening loss at Ole Miss Friday night, and the school will apply for a medical redshirt that would open the door for a return in 2016-17 as a fifth-year senior.
Without West even more responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Woodley, who last season led the team with an average of 22.2 points per game. But in West the Demons lose a player who not only averaged 20.0 points per game but also led the nation with 7.7 assists per contest. That kind of player, one who can both get hot himself (he scored 24 of his 25 points Friday night in the second half) and set up others, isn’t easily replaceable.
Sophomore Devonte Hall, who accounted for two points, five rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes of action against Ole Miss, is one player who will need to step into that point guard role moving forward. As for the scoring, guards Malik Metoyer (freshman) and Sabri Thompson (junior) will see increased scoring opportunities with West sidelined.
Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)
Throughout this week coaching staffs have eschewed the usual dress shoes in favor of sneakers, with the “Suits and Sneakers” initiative being sponsored by Coaches vs. Cancer. But for some staffs, wearing sneakers with a suit is viewed as a fashion faux pas and they’ve decided to dress down some.
And then there’s Mike McConathy and his staff at Northwestern State. For the Demons’ game against McNeese State on Saturday, the staff wore some impressive pants that can be seen below. Northwestern State won the game in convincing fashion, 92-68, with one of the better perimeter tandems that doesn’t get a whole lot of national attention leading the way.
Jalan West finished the game with 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and fellow guard Zikiteran “Zeek” Woodley added 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting along with three blocks and two steals.
With this being the 50th season of college basketball at Houston Baptist, the school has planned various events throughout the season in order to celebrate their past. Saturday players from the 1960s and 1970s were honored, with the all-decade teams announced at the Huskies’ game against New Orleans.
You can’t celebrate the past without having throwback uniforms for the occasion, and Houston Baptist wore a uniform that was simply outstanding. A home white jersey top (with a dribbling husky) paired with blue, orange and white striped shorts? Sartorial excellence.
The Huskies won 74-73 thanks to two Cody Stetler free throws with 14 seconds remaining, with Stetler preserving the lead with a blocked shot on the other end. There was also a costume contest for the fans, who were encouraged to wear their best 60s/70s clothes for the occasion.
After losing to in-state rival Creighton on Sunday night, Nebraska looked poised to get back on the right track with provisional Division I member Incarnate Word in town Wednesday. While the Cardinals, who are in the second year of their transition to the Division I level, entered the game with a 5-1 record just two of those games were played against Division I competition.
Ken Burmeister’s team posted a win over Princeton last month, and on Monday fell 81-65 at UTEP. But none of that mattered Wednesday night, as the Cardinals knocked off the Cornhuskers 74-73 with a Kyle Hittle jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining proving to be the difference.
Hittle finished the game with 18 points and was one of five UIW players to score in the game, with all five reaching double figures. As a team Incarnate Word shot just over 48 percent from the field for the game, and they managed to win despite the fact that leading scorer Denzel Livingston (19.6 ppg) shot just 3-for-11 from the field.
For Nebraska this loss, their second straight at home, makes Saturday’s game against Cincinnati even more important. Shavon Shields (19 points) rebounded from a disappointing game against Creighton and Terran Petteway added 18, but the Huskers need some supplementary scoring options to step forward before Big Ten play begins. Just one other player scored in double figures (Walter Pitchford- ten points), and the remaining players shot a combined 8-for-24 from the field.
That being said defense was a bigger issue on this night, with Incarnate Word shooting nearly 58 percent from the field in the second half.
While Nebraska will look to address the issues that led to their third defeat of the season, Incarnate Word will celebrate what is the program’s biggest win as a Division I member. And while the result is a good one for this year’s team, it’s also an important step forward as Burmeister’s program works towards competing for an NCAA tournament bid when it becomes eligible to do so in 2017-18.
Willis Wilson’s Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders picked up a solid road victory Sunday afternoon, as they beat defending Atlantic 10 champion Saint Louis 62-56. Junior guard John Jordan led the way offensively, scoring 13 points to go along with three assists and three steals. The 5-foot-10 Jordan also provided the highlight of the game, going baseline for the dunk over SLU’s Miles Reynolds.
According to the announces Jordan has a standing vertical of 38 inches, and with a running start he approaches 50 inches. Give Reynolds credit for attempting to make the proper help side rotation. But given how high Jordan jumped, he very well could have cleared Reynolds had the SLU guard made it directly in front of him.
Senior forward and reigning Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker wasn’t always a star-quality player at Stephen F. Austin. After two years under previous head coach Danny Kasper, Parker put up ordinary numbers on ordinary teams.
But under new head coach Brad Underwood last season, Parker’s game expanded. The same thing happened to Parker’s teammates and it helped launch the Lumberjacks to unprecedented program success, including an undefeated record in Southland play, a 29-game win streak and a trip to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
Underwood’s strategy as a head coach certainly paid off — including setting a culture predicated on a theory of, “getting better every single day we’re in the gym,” — but he’s also tried to keep it loose and fun for his players so their personalities come through and they can focus on basketball when the time comes.
“Once he came in, it was a whole different lifestyle,” Parker said to NBCSports.com. “With Coach Kasper, it was clean shaven, crew cut, nothing out of the ordinary. Coach Underwood came in, he was a whole different guy. A lot of fun to be around him. Guys were in the office all the time last year. It’s just a good environment to be around.”
With the new coaching staff in place, the changes became particularly apparent for Parker, both on-and-off the court, as the 6-foot-6 forward had a tremendous year in 2013-14. After putting up 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, Parker became the conference’s best player, averaging 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game as a junior while shooting 53.8% from the field, 46.9% from three-point range and 79.8% from the free-throw line.
But the changes also came off-the-floor. Parker grew his hair out long for the first time and Underwood said he began to show his personality and leadership ability.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve ever grown out my hair. So that was a big change for myself,” Parker said.
Parker’s coach described him as a “really quiet leader,” but teammates respect Parker in-part because he’s grounded and simple, often sticking to activities he’s done his whole life and working very hard on the court. His teammates and coaches like the person that Parker has become and Underwood likes his star player’s personality.
“He’s a guy that at the end of the day would probably be just as happy being the star of Duck Dynasty,” Underwood said. “He loves to hunt and fish, it’s part of his upbringing. He’s very creative.”
Communicating with players and learning about hobbies and problems is a huge component of the Stephen F. Austin men’s basketball program. Underwood wants players to have fun and remain loose away from the court and he believes earning that trust will help lead to better communication in games and on the court.
“I think that communication is the single most important thing to the success of a program,” Underwood said. “I think, as a coach, I’m trying to push these guys to get better every day, knowing the hardest thing to get a kid to do is to be an everyday guy. I need to understand why they have a bad day. Whether they stayed up for an econ test, or problems at home and to do that we need communication.”
That kind of focus on communication led to Underwood being able to reach his new players on his style of play nearly immediately. Parker said that the communication on the floor was positive from the moment Underwood took the job and the team grasped what they were trying to accomplish.
“Right when he got down here he kind of showed us what we would be doing,” Parker said. “Our defensive principles are very strong, which is very important. He showed us about the kind of offense we would run. And it was eye-opening because I’d never played like that.”
The ability to instantly learn the new concepts coupled with a balanced team that could shoot helped Stephen F. Austin have a special season. Four players ended up averaging double-figure scoring last season and five players shot at least 35 percent from the three-point line.
There’s some questions heading into the season now that Desmond Haymon and Deshaunt Walker are gone from the wing, but senior forward Thomas Walkup is back with Parker and the team is anxious to build on last season’s success. The rotation for the Lumberjacks should be deeper this season.
“I love the increased depth. I think that this will be a more competitive team in practice, which I hope makes us much better,” Underwood said. “I think this team has the capability of maybe scoring the ball a little easier than last year’s team. We do lose a great deal of experience.”
Stephen F. Austin might not be able to go unbeaten in a deep Southland Conference this season, but they’re hoping that the new pieces are able to come in and grasp the concepts quickly like Underwood taught the whole team last season.
The Lumberjacks want to get back to the NCAA Tournament and make some more noise.