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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
You know those Discovery Channel documentaries where swarms of hyenas fend off much bigger, stronger, seemingly more dangerous lions and steal freshly killed food right out from under the "king of the jungle?"
Well, that's the way Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy likes for his basketball team to play. The Demons might be smaller, might not be as strong and certainly aren't as imposing as some of the power conference schools they face during non-conference play. But through a swarming, group mentality -- one that involves significant minutes from every player on the bench -- the Demons have proved to be dangerous for even the most highly-regarded teams.
"I have a philosophy that if we have 10 or 11 guys who can compete at the highest level for 15 minutes each game, then we can keep the intensity level high enough to stay in any game," McConathy said. "A lot of people don't understand that. We have good players. But we don't have seven guys who can line up with the top 25 teams in the country and compete night in and night out. But with 10 or 11 giving everything they've got and keeping the intensity up, we can do it for one night.
"To play those people, you've got to have depth and you've got to stay fresh and you've got to keep the intensity level high."
The Demons proved more than capable of keeping that intensity level high and of competing with the big boys last season. After a nine-point loss at Missouri, they bounced back with an overtime victory at Mississippi State and a four-point win at Oklahoma State. They also beat Oregon State and lost in overtime at Iowa State before closing non-conference play with a loss at surprising Big 12 contender Texas A&M (which happened to be 16-2 last season on their homecourt, Reed Arena).
But the biggest statement made by Northwestern State came in the NCAA Tournament. After winning the Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles, the Demons defeated Big 10 tournament champion Iowa -- the No. 15 team in the country -- in the opening round, becoming the first Southland team to reach the round of 32 since Louisiana Tech did so in 1985 with some guy named Karl Malone leading the way. The season ended a round later with a loss to West Virginia, but a message had been sent and the Demons enjoyed that one shining moment no one can ever take from them.
"That wasn't just huge for our program, I think it was huge for our league," McConathy said. "We've got so many great coaches in our league and we've got some great athletes as well. For us to get over the hump and win a game like that gives our league so much credibility."