Demons return to face Rainbows
Northwestern State took fourth in last year's Rainbow Classic and upset Iowa in the NCAAs
Their hometown in Louisiana may still be a challenge to locate -- and even trickier to pronounce -- but the Northwestern State Demons certainly put themselves on the college basketball map last spring.
Hawaii vs. Northwestern State
When: Tomorrow, 5:35 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Tickets: $26 (lower level, single seats only), $22 (upper, adult), $5 (upper, students), $3 (upper, UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs). Parking, $3.
Promotion: The first 500 fans who donate a new, unwrapped toy to "Toys for Tots" receive a free ticket to the game.
The Demons were the buzz of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a dramatic first-round upset of third-seeded Iowa, and are working to build on the momentum they built last March.
"Like I tell everyone, the worst thing about last year is that it's over," NSU coach Mike McConathy said. "Because it was phenomenal.
"People who weren't even basketball people, they got fired up about that because it was something that put that little community on a national scale."
A fourth-place finish in last year's Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic helped the Demons roll toward their landmark 26-8 season and they're back in town to face Hawaii (4-4) tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Tip-off for the nonconference game is set for 5:35 p.m.
The Demons made the day-long trip from Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-a-dish) -- a town of about 20,000 -- to Honolulu yesterday.
McConathy said he woke up at about 4 a.m. Central time (midnight Hawaii time). The team finally arrived here about 16 hours later and went straight to practice at the Sheriff Center.
Northwestern State earned respect locally on its way to the national spotlight with a spirited effort in the Rainbow Classic.
After beating Oregon State, NSU lost in overtime to eventual tournament champion Iowa State in a semifinal game that included a scoring error that awarded the Cyclones a point on a missed free throw in the second half.
The Rainbows and Demons then met in the third-place game, with Hawaii pulling out an 80-76 win.
Despite the losses, McConathy felt the tournament helped set up the Demons for the rest of the season.
"The fact that we were able to come here to such a prestigious tournament and compete just helped build the momentum going to win our league, win our tournament and get the win against Iowa," McConathy said.
"We had some real positives come out of our deal here last year. The point deal, that stuff happens. You just have to get over that and move forward. We got so much positive spin out of everything that happened."
They went on to win the Southland Conference title, earning them the 14th seed of the Atlanta Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Demons trailed by as many as 17 to Big Ten champion Iowa with 8 minutes left.
Their stunning comeback was capped by Jermaine Wallace's 3-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded, giving them a 64-63 win.
The shot not only sent the Demons to the second round -- where they lost to West Virginia -- but proved profitable for the school as well. Wallace's shot was voted the top play from the tournament, earning NSU a $105,000 prize toward the general scholarship fund.
"Everybody was in the right position," said guard Luke Rogers, who grabbed the rebound that set up the buzzer-beater. "It was a blessing and I think about it all the time. I have flashbacks watching it on ESPN. It's something to live up to, being a part of that."
This year's Demons are off to a 5-4 start, beating Western Athletic Conference member Utah State (which hasn't lost since) to open the season. Included in their four defeats are road losses at Oklahoma State, currently ranked 15th, Louisville, and then-No. 8 Marquette, currently No. 20.
"He takes them out and is not afraid to go places to play and get ready for their conference," said UH coach Riley Wallace.
"We know they're talented, we know they're athletic, we know they're well coached, so we have to be ready to play."
Rogers is the only returning starter off last year's team and ranks third on the team in scoring with 12 points per game behind junior forward Trey Gilder (14.2) and forward Colby Bargeman (12.6).
Gilder, who has come off the bench in each game, is questionable for tomorrow's contest due to a fracture in his left hand.
NSU has had four different starting lineups in nine games and McConathy uses his bench freely.
Nine players have started at least one game this season, and none averages more than 30 minutes per game.
"We've got a lot of guys that are anxious and young and have a lot of energy," Rogers said. "That brings a lot to the table. We lost a lot of experience from last year, but right now we're picking up the slack."
Coaching ties: Early in his coaching career when he was an assistant at Centenary, Wallace tried to recruit McConathy, then a Louisiana high school standout. McConathy ended up picking Louisiana Tech.
"When you look back I wasn't very smart, was I?" McConathy said with a laugh. "I could have gone and played with Robert Parish and for Coach Wallace. He's a good friend and has always been a a great coach and recruiter."