NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU) Zeek Woodley gets back into action for Northwestern State Wednesday night, but the Demons’ sensational senior is aiming only to be a role player as the Demons host the Lamar Cardinals in an 8 p.m. contest at Prather Coliseum.
After being idled two months with a broken right wrist, on his shooting hand, perhaps the most dynamic scorer in school history is eager to play his part as NSU (10-15 overall, 4-10 in the Southland) tries to surge into the eight-team Southland Conference Tournament field over the next four games. Five of the Demons’ league losses have come in the final minute or overtime.
Those have been especially agonizing for Woodley, who was averaging 17.6 points per game this season, and 19.2 in his 96-game career, when he got hurt Dec. 19.
“It’s been very tough, especially seeing the team go down to the wire on so many close games. I’m very happy to be back and try to help us get to the tournament,” he said.
Step one on that path is avenging an 85-64 loss on Jan. 28 at Lamar (15-12, 7-7). The Cardinals have dropped their last three games, all on the road and by single-digit margins.
Wednesday night’s game will be televised in Louisiana on Cox Sports Television (including KTBS-DT2 AccuWeather), which also reaches markets in 16 other states. It is distributed on the American Sports Network to a wide range of markets nationally and is also available online at Southland.org/live and through the Southland Conference app.
The Demons pulled out a road win Saturday night at Nicholls when senior Tra’von Joseph capped a career-best 19-point outing with a spinning 6-foot bank shot with 4.9 seconds left for an 80-78 victory. NSU trailed by as many as 13 points after halftime and took its first lead with 2:12 remaining.
While record keepers and fans are hopeful Woodley can notch at least 70 points in the remaining games and become the Demons’ career scoring leader, topping the 2,009-point total by Billy Reynolds from 1973-77, Woodley has no such agenda. His only sense of urgency is for the team’s success, knowing the squad has played for eight weeks without him and roles have evolved out of necessity.
“I’ll take my time and try to get into the flow of the game, try to help us win,” he said. “I’ll take it slow, let it come to me, not try to force things.”
Demons’ coach Mike McConathy is also focused on the big picture, which dictates the quality of Woodley’s contributions may not be quantifiable with points or rebounds. Meshing with teammates who have raised their level of play shouldn’t be problematic, he said.
“I’m excited about having Zeek back. Everybody is,” said McConathy. “We were able to show a great deal of tenacity during his 15-game absence. Our kids really fought, really competed, and really improved themselves to compensate for not having him on the floor.
“I just expect Zeek to come play basketball. We’ll take whatever Zeek gives us, because whatever it will be, is going to be good. He gives us a different dimension. I don’t think you assume he’s plugging in x-number of points and x-number of rebounds. There are so many intangibles of Zeek returning that can lift this team at a critical time for us in this stretch run.”
The Demons are getting increased production from sophomore center Ishmael Lane, who has had a pair of double-double performances (including 17 points and 13 rebounds at Nicholls) along with a career-best 32-point eruption at Abilene Christian in the last three weeks. Senior guard Sabri Thompson, 23rd nationally with his 43 percent 3-point aim, is scoring 16.7 per game in Southland competition, while junior Iziahiah Sweeney and Devonte Hall, and Lane, all share the same 11.4 conference scoring average.
They have a short-term focus entering the last two weeks of the 18-game regular season league race.
“It’s our next game, it’s our last game. That’s how we see it. We have one-game seasons from here on out,” said McConathy. “We have a tournament mentality because we need every win possible to make it to the conference tournament in three weeks. Lamar is obviously a very, very talented team that caused us a lot of difficulties when we played them earlier.”
The Demon Sports Network radio coverage is flagshipped by 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches and includes 92.1 KSYR FM in Shreveport and 103.1 KWLA FM serving Many and Leesville.
The Demons have three of their last four games at home in Prather Coliseum. After Wednesday night, they are home again Saturday afternoon against New Orleans.