If Thursday night’s Southland Conference opener was a sign of things to come, the Nicholls State University Colonels should find themselves right in the mix.
The Colonels converted 42 points off of 26 turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field in coasting to the 87-46 win over the Northwestern State Demons in David R. Stopher Gymnasium.
It was the largest margin of victory by any Colonels team in conference play since a 36-point win against Southeastern on Feb. 20, 1999 and a defensive effort that Nicholls coach Richie Riley said he hopes the team can build on.
In addition to the 26 turnovers, the Demons shot 27 percent from the field and failed to muster any momentum, trailing the entire 40 minutes.
“We got started early,” Riley said. “We were able to pressure them and didn’t allow them to get comfortable, and that was huge. Anytime you can get that many points in the turnover battle, you are going to win most of those games. That’s a goal of ours, to try to get 22 plus turnovers and we were able to get 26 tonight so we accomplished that. It gets us going early when we can do that.”
Nicholls wasted little time bring the pressure to Northwestern State as the Demons turned the ball over four times in the first 3 minutes to help the Colonels jump out to an early 10-2 lead.
The Colonels (7-7 overall, 1-0 in the Southland Conference) then used an 8-2 run with four points from both Kimani Jackson (14 points) and Kevin Johnson (eight points) to take control 18-4 at the 12:50 mark.
Nicholls had runs of 8-0, 12-0 and 5-0 in the first and got 14 first-half points from Jackson and 12 first-half points from Tevon Saddler to push its lead to 30 (48-18) at halftime after forcing 22 Northwestern State turnovers in the first half.
Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy credited the Colonels for keeping the pressure on.
“Nicholls is an awesome team, very well coached and I would say that they executed their stuff unbelievably well,” McConathy said. “They did a great job making us turnover the ball early and we were very ineffective in large part because of what they did.”
The Demons (3-9 overall, 0-1 in the Southland Conference) opened the second half on a 4-0 run capped off by a pair of free throws from C.J. Jones (seven points) but were unable to garner any momentum as Nicholls used two Saddler free throws and free throw from Roddy Peters (10 points) and pair of 3-pointers from Jahvaughn Powell (13 points) to take a 33-point lead, 57-24, at the 16:53 mark.
Northwestern State eventually cut the Nicholls lead to 26 after a 3-pointer from Ishmael Lane (11 points) to make the score 67-41 but a 10-0 Colonels run capped off by a pair of Johnson free throws pushed Nicholls’ lead to 77-41 with 3:25 mark.
The Demons got no closer than 34 points the rest of the way as the Colonels closed the game on a 10-5 run to secure the win.
Riley said he was pleased the Colonels were able to maintain their dominance in the second half.
"We had a couple of the other games where we let it get away in the second half, the intensity of our team (Thursday night) was probably as good as it has been all year with being able to stay focused and continuing our execution,” Riley said. “That’s something we preach is don’t play the score. We’re playing the game to be the best we can be all the time.”
Nicholls also out-scored the Demons in the paint (42-20), on fast-break points (18-4), on second-chance points (20-13) and on bench points (34-16).
Northwestern State outrebound the Colonels 44-40.
Jackson, who made all five of his field goals, said Thursday’s win was only the beginning for the Colonels.
“We have been working hard. Conference play is a different season,” Jackson said. “We want to win all of our conference games. That’s the ultimate goal. That is the whole reason why we play.”
NICHOLLS WOMEN TOP NORTHWESTERN STATE
At Natchitoches, a strong defensive effort and lots of transition buckets by the Nicholls women’s basketball team led to a rare road win in the series against Northwestern State as the Colonels started Southland Conference play with a 79-63 victory on Thursday night in Prather Coliseum.
With the win, Nicholls improved to 6-6 overall and to 1-0 in league play. The victory was just the third in Natchitoches in the all-time series, which dates back to 1975.
The Colonels last won at Prather in 2012.
Northwestern State (5-7 overall, 0-1 in the SLC) had 31 turnovers in the loss, with Nicholls recording 16 steals. The turnovers made way for easy layups as Nicholls had a 16-4 advantage in fast-break points.
Cassidy Barrios finished with a game-high 23 points and recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 13 rebounds for Nicholls. Tykeria Williams had 13 points and hit three 3-pointers, and Marina Lilly poured in 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
The game was tied at the end of the first, but Nicholls used a 9-0 run to grab the lead. The Colonels went into the intermission with a 28-22 lead and outscored the Lady Demons by five points in the third and fourth quarters to pick up the win.
Nicholls dished out 16 assists on 23 made field goals, finishing the night with a 44.2 percent shooting clip from the field.
Tia Charles matched her career-high with eight assists and had two turnovers and added eight points.
One of her buckets highlighted an early surge in the third for the Colonels as Nicholls grabbed a 36-24 lead.
Northwestern State trimmed the deficit to eight points later in the quarter, but it was as close as the Lady Demons would get the rest of the way.
Nicholls continued to be the aggressors on offense, resulting in 35 free-throw attempts, compared to nine by Northwestern State.
The Colonels made 25-of-29 after the break and finished at 82.9 percent for the game. Barrios was nearly perfect at the line, missing just one of 14 attempts.
Nicholls entered the contest with an 11.7 steal per game average before matching its second-high total of the season.
Barrios matched her personal-best with six steals, while four other players had two each.
The Colonels stay on the road with a matchup in San Antonio versus UIW on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.