Not only were the Northwestern State Lady Demons battling to get back in contention for a high seed in the Southland Conference tournament Wednesday night; they were fighting to get back into their locker room.
After the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears handed the Lady Demons their worst home court defeat in 47 games last week (74-49), co-coaches Brooke and Scott Stoehr publically apologized to the fans at Prather Coliseum and locked the team out of its locker room.
Things were totally different Wednesday night at the Farris Center as the Lady Demons (13-10, 7-5) led almost wire to wire in ending a nine-game winning streak by the Sugar Bears (19-3, 9-2) with a 60-56 victory.
"They’ll get back in," said Brooke Stoehr, "but not because we won. It was the effort."
"We couldn’t guard them," said UCA coach Sandra Rushing whose team is about to begin a three-game road swing. "The difference in the game tonight was their energy. They had energy the whole game. We were not ready to play and I’ll take full responsibility for that. We played scared, so maybe this could be the best thing to happen to us. Maybe the pressure is off."
It was an off night for the Sugar Bears in several categories. UCA hit only 14 of 22 free throws while NSU was 11 of 12. The Lady Demons had a 21-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Lady Demons were seven of 11 from 3-point range. UCA was two of 13.
Maggie Proffitt, the Sugar Bears’ leading scorer, never got a clear look against the Lady Demons’ matchups, was only one of seven from 3-point range, and was held to 12 points.
Typical of UCA’s frustrations was a juncture early in the fourth quarter after UCA pulled within 46-39. The Lady Demons missed two shots, got the rebound each time and Shahd Abboud took advantage of the third try for a 3-pointer to put the lead back at 10.
Three straight missed inside shots by post Cheyenne Brown helped the Sugar Bears back in it, sparked by a flurry by Taylor Baudoin, who scored 19 points.
The Sugar Bears drew within 52-49 with 3:13 left, then Janelle Perez, the Lady Demons’ smooth-shooting point guard who scored 22 points, stepped back quickly on a defensive switch and swished a basket with the shot clock running down.
Proffitt’s only 3-pointer of the game pulled UCA within 54-52, then she tied the game with a 12-footer after a NSU shot went in an out.
Another 3-pointer by Perez gave NSU a 57-54 lead with 1:40 left. Brianna Mullins’ two free throws brought UCA within one.
The Sugar Bears’ Kendara Watts took a charge with 33.5 seconds left and the Sugar Bears took a timeout with 16.8 seconds left trailing by one.
Mullins turned the ball over when an NSU player hit the ball on a lane drive. Since UCA had four fouls to give before NSU was in the double bonus, the Sugar Bears had to four fouls times in 12.5 seconds. Because they fouled before the ball was inbounded, they accomplished that in 2.5 seconds.
However, on the shooting foul, they fouled Perez, the fourth-best free-throw shooter in the nation. She hit two free throws with 10 seconds left to put NSU up, 59-56. Proffitt got a contested 3-point attempt that may have been slightly deflected and NSU got the rebound after a scramble for a loose ball.
Perez clinched the victory with one of two free throws with 2 seconds left.
"They have won back-to-back (SLC) tournaments championships," Rushing said. "They have great players who can hit big shots and know how to win."
"We were a rebound away from beating McNeese State earlier," said Stoehr. "Tonight, we were a rebound away from victory and got it."
Stoehr had to finish the game without her husband at her side. Scott Stoehr was ejected after being hit with his second technical foul with 2:43 left in the third quarter. Brooke Stoehr said in a radio interview Scott didn’t curse or said nothing derogatory.
The Sugar Bears play Incarnate Word on Sasturday afternoon in San Antonio. "I’m not down on this team at all," Rushing said. "I didn’t need it but sometimes you need a wakeup call."