Okafor’s late game heroics lead Lions to 2nd half comeback win over Demons
Published 9:46 am Monday, January 17, 2022
Junior Gus Okafor scored the last 11 points for the Southeastern Louisiana University men’s basketball team to help erase a 10-point second half deficit in Saturday’s 79-74 victory over Northwestern State in the Southland Conference opener at the University Center.
With the game hanging in the balance and the Demons leading 71-68, Okafor took over. The Baltimore, Maryland native tied the game at 71-71 with a three-pointer with 2:59 left. The preseason second team All-Southland selection also scored on a pair of lay-ups and made four out of five from the free throw line in the game’s final minute to seal the Lions’ fifth straight victory during a game-deciding 11-3 run.
“Gus has worked his butt off all off-season to get in tremendous shape,” said third-year SLU men’s head basketball coach David Kiefer. “He didn’t have his best game shooting but we never lost confidence in him because we know he puts the time in. And he came up huge for us down the stretch.”
Southeastern (9-9, 1-0 Southland) had five players score in double figures led by Jalyn Hinton with a game-high 23 points along with eight rebounds. Okafor, along with his late game heroics, also recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Roscoe Eastmond and Joe Kasperzyk both had 11 points while reigning Southland Player of the Week Keon Clergeot added 10.
“Jalyn has been consistent for us all year,” said Kiefer. “Every game he seems to have 10-12 points, five or six rebounds, a couple of blocks, a couple of steals and fills up the stat sheet. He has been a huge addition to our team this year and it shows every game.”
The Demons (4-13, 0-1 Southland) got 21 points from Larry Owens on 9-for-12 shooting. Kendall Coleman, NSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, added 12 points and 14 rebounds while LaTerrance Reed also scored 12 to aid the Demons.
In the first half, the Lions seemed to be in control leading 28-17 with 9:28 left until halftime. But the Demons rallied to tie the game at halftime, 40-40.
The Lions started the second half ice cold from the field making just four of their first 15 shots allowing the Demons to take a 59-49 lead with 10:30 to go.
Kasperzyk, however, helped lead the Lions back into the game scoring eight of his 11 points during a 18-10 run by SLU to trim the Demons’ lead to 69-67 with 4:48 to go.
“Joe was disruptive all over the floor for us on the defensive end especially,” said Kiefer. “He was a ball hawk on that end of the floor which really helped spark us when we needed it.”
After a free throw by Hinton, Okafor took care of the rest with 11 of his 13 points in the final 2:59 to lead the Lions to the hard-fought win.
Southeastern finished the game 26-for-62 from the field for 41.9 percent while Northwestern State was 28-for-62 for 45 percent. The Lions converted 20 out of 25 from the free-throw line for 80 percent while the Demons were 12-for-23 for 52 percent.
The Lions were able to pick up the win despite being outrebounded, 48-30, and being outscored in second chance points, 17-0. But Southeastern committed just 11 turnovers for the game and only three in the second half. Northwestern State had 20 for the game and 11 in the second half.
“I thought our guys did a good job of just staying the course,” said Kiefer. “I thought our communication was terrific from everybody. Our bench did a good job of communicating what they saw out to the guys on the floor. Tonight was a total team effort.”
Defensively, the Lions had 12 steals as Hinton, Eastmond and Kasperzyk each had three.
SLU will go for their sixth straight victory Thursday night when they take on New Orleans (8-8, 1-0 Southland) at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana at 7 p.m.
The Privateers defeated Nicholls, 78-66, Saturday night as they will enter the matchup with Southeastern on a four-game winning streak.
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