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Northwestern State looks to shake their own Demons

A successful pre-season trip to Canada has head coach Mike McConathy feeling optimistic about his Demons.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Arkansas Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto, ON - There is a legend surrounding the campus of Northwestern State University about a beautiful French maiden named Isabella who lived in a mansion on the original campus grounds in Natchitoches, Louisiana back in the mid-1800’s.

It is said that the young lady had many local suitors but preferred the company of a young man from the east. The couple fell in love and were to be married but shortly before the wedding date the young man was killed in duel. Legend has it that duel concerned a dispute over another woman.

Isabella was so overcome by grief that she became a nun and spent her days in constant mourning. Everybody believed she’d gone mad. One stormy night she ended her mourning by plunging a dagger into her heart. Legend has it that she has haunted the campus since.

Entering his 18th season, Northwestern State head coach Mike McConathy must’ve felt like a dagger had plunged through his heart when he received word that senior guard Jalan West had once again injured his knee and would be out for the year.

West was the nation’s leader in assists in the 2014-15 season with 7.7 per game while also averaging 20 points and 2.1 steals per game. West tore his right ACL in the 2015-16 season opener against Ole Miss, ending what would have been his senior season. The Demons simply fell apart following the injury finishing with an abysmal 8-20 record. McConathy spoke of the effects of West’s injury on the rest of his team.

“It was devastating, the kids never got over it,” McConathy said. “You kept thinking they were going to break through.”

West was then granted a medical red-shirt to play this season but once again tore the ACL in the same knee in early August which has him out once again for the entire 2016-17 season.

Not that any team is prepared to lose a key player in back-to-back seasons, but the Demons seem in a better position to move on without their key figure on the court and in the locker room.

“20 butt whoopings and a year helps you be better prepared for the next time,” McConathy jokingly told Mid-Major Madness.

Of course, Northwestern State has already begun the process of moving on with the trip to Canada. The Demons went a perfect 4-0 and handily defeated the University of Toronto, York, Waterloo and Guelph over the course of the week and helped create some optimism moving into the 2016-17 campaign.

McConathy spoke of the experience in Canada.

“I’m really pleased with the trip,” McConathy told Mid-Major Madness. “I thought it was a great character builder for us and it was a great opportunity for some young guys to get some minutes.”

The Demons still have some key players in place to make a vast improvement on last season’s 20 loss campaign including 6’3 guard Sabri Thompson. The senior was on a fire during the Canada trip highlighted by a 34-point performance where he torched Toronto on 12 of 15 shooting draining all seven of his three-point shots.

The Demons back court is as good any team in the Southland and their offense will once again be geared around the nation’s leading returning scorer in 6’2 senior guard Zeek Woodley. Notably, Woodley averaged an impressive 22.2 points per game last year and has 53 career double-doubles to his resume.

Woodley talked about the ups and downs of the past year but kept a positive eye towards this season.

“We already went through that slump last year and I think we’re getting better every day,” Woodley said. “Our goal is to win the conference and play in the NCAA tournament.”

McConathy has taken the Demons to the NCAA tournament on three separate occasions during tenure at Northwestern State (2001, 2006,2013) and feels his squad has a chance to be “very talented” in the wide open Southland Conference this year.

But naturally, the game of basketball and coaching means a lot more to McConathy and his staff than just winning.

“I think you have to have a greater value than just keeping score.” Fighting back his emotions he continued, “Two weeks ago, a guy dropped by the gym that played for me nine years ago with his kid and that’s the thing that makes a difference. You had an impact on that young man’s life.”

Hopefully this season, the Demons will be delivering some daggers of their own to their opponents hearts across the Southland.