McNeese State University dunks late in the game against Oral Roberts University. (Kirk Meche / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, February 06, 2014 3:03 PMThis stretch of the McNeese State basketball season is what coaches and athletes refer to when they talk about “the grind.”
The Cowboys (7-14, 5-4 Southland) are setting out for a five-game road trip that spans most of February, beginning with their game against Northwestern State (9-11, 5-4) at 7:30 p.m. today.
While Northwestern sits tied with McNeese for fifth in the conference, it’s certainly not for lack of entertainment. The Demons play at a breakneck pace, scoring 87.6 points per game, second most in the nation. But that number is conversely reflected on defense, where Northwestern gives up 87.7 points per game, the most points of any team in the country by a four-point margin.
“Against a team like Northwestern, they get so much out of their full-court pressure, they turn that into a lot of numbers,” said Cowboys head coach Dave Simmons. “The higher the number you get is to their advantage. You have to execute well, not turn it over and limit their possessions. You don’t want to get in a track meet with them, because that’s what they’ve been doing all year.”
Simmons called Demons coach Mike McConathy one of the elite coaches in the league and said Northwestern’s signature press can cause problems for offenses.
“There’s not as much man to man as they used to run in the past,” he said. “They’re on a four-game win streak and they’ve had a lot of success with the 1-2-2 three-quarter-court press and 1-2-2 half-court zone.”
“Last time out, we struggled against the 1-2-2 zone. Mainly we struggled because we didn’t shoot well from the perimeter. You’ve got to make shots, shoot it well and get them out of zone into man and then you can run your man offense. We’ve got to be prepared for that type of zone and any half-court type of trapping.”
The Cowgirls (12-8, 5-4) will face a Northwestern team that has made its home court a fortress despite road woes. The Demons (12-9, 5-4) have compiled an 8-1 record at Prather Coliseum, with a 1-7 road mark.
The teams are tied for sixth place in the Southland standings.
McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams said the Demons’ Princeton offense will require sound defense from the Cowgirls.
“They do a lot of things that make you uncomfortable defensively,” she said. “They feed off of any defensive weakness. It’s fun guarding the Princeton action because it really makes you disciplined defensively. Within our regular defensive drills, we’ve added in defending for that Princeton action. It makes you play near-perfect defensively. It’s been a challenge for us and it will be a challenge tonight.”
The Cowgirls will also have to overcome the hurdle of traveling the same day of a game, which they did in early season losses against Tulane and Texas Southern.
“It’s hard to switch gears to go from class in the morning to preparation and you get out of a regular basketball routine,” Donald Williams said. “But that’s something we’ve got to learn to handle, because it’s what we do.”