DURHAM, N.C. – McNeese had its eyes focused on its first Division I win of the season against NCC on Saturday afternoon, but the Eagles, who played in last year’s NCAA Tournament and have been to multiple postseason brackets, managed to rally from a 7-point deficit with a 10-2 run in the final two minutes to escape the Cowboys with a 67-66 win.
The Cowboys (2-5) posted one of its best second halves of the season in terms of shooting (65.4 percent) but missed free throws, along with multiple second chances by the Eagles in the final two minutes, had McNeese paying the price.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome but happy with our effort after a long trip and a quick turnaround,” said head coach Heath Schroyer, referencing McNeese’s game at SMU on Thursday night and flight to North Carolina on Friday. “I thought we really executed in the second half. Unfortunately, we haven’t learned how to win these games yet.”
McNeese led 64-57 with 1:59 to play but went 1-for-5 from the free throw line during that stretch while the Eagles scored eight of its 10 points during their run off turnovers and second chance opportunities.
“Turnovers, offensive rebounds and missed free throws in the last two minutes gets you beat,” said Schroyer. “This game had a league-like feel to it and was a great atmosphere. NCC has been to multiple NCAA Tournaments the last couple years and they know how to win.
“I’ve been through this before. As hard as it is, these types of games are a learning experience and a process that you have to go through to build a team and program.”
The loss was the second straight suffered by the Cowboys (2-5) in the second game of a current three-game road trip. They’ll wrap it up on Tuesday night at nationally ranked Mississippi State. NCC (4-5) remained unbeaten at home on the season and won for the third straight time.
The Eagles will make a return trip to Lake Charles on Dec. 13.
Sha’Markus Kennedy led the Cowboys with 22 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double on the season. James Harvey added 19 points behind 5 of 7 shooting from 3-point range, and Kevin Hunt added 10 points.
NCC was led by Raasean Davis’ 21 points and 17 boards while Larry McKnight Jr. scored 20 points and Reggie Gardner Jr. added 17.
McNeese trailed just 22-21 at the half despite shooting 28 percent from the field but the second half was a different story. The Cowboys blistered the nets by hitting 65 percent (17 of 26) in the second half and was 6 of 8 from long range.
Kennedy and Harvey gave the Cowboys a boost early in the second half when a 31-30 lead built to an 11-point advantage at 47-36 in a nearly five-minute span, a 16-6 run for the Cowboys, with 10:05 to play. Harvey knocked down three of his five 3s during that time.
NCC cut the margin to 51-48 after a Gardner 3 at the 7:22 mark but Harvey responded his another trey then Roydell Brown hit the first of two free throws to put the Cowboys up 55-48 with 5:44 to play.
A Malik Hines just was followed by two Kennedy free throws to increase a 3-point lead to seven with 3:15 left, then a Brown layup kept the lead at 7 points, 64-57, with 1:59 to play.
The Eagles closed the gap to 64-60 after a McKnight layup and free throw, then after Hunt missed the front end of a 1-and-1, McKnight hit 1 of 2 free throws to cut the McNeese lead to 64-61 with 1:05 to play.
The Eagles knocked down two more free throws after being fouled on a steal, then took the lead at 65-64 with 46 seconds to play when Davis tipped-in his own missed layup,
Harvey gave the Cowboys the lead back on a jumper with 19 seconds to play to make it 66-65 but McKnight hit two free throws with eight seconds to play to put NCC up 67-66.
McNeese’s chance at the game-winner fell off the mark at the buzzer.
The Cowboys connected on 46 percent (25 of 54) for the game and made 7 of 14 from 3-point range. NCC made 41 percent (25 of 61) of its shots and was 5 of 22 for 23 percent from behind the arc.
Both teams attempted 15 free throws, McNeese making nine and NCC 12, but McNeese hit just 5 of 11 in the second half. The Cowboys held a 38-31 advantage in rebounding as Brown pulled down 10 to go along with six points.
McNeese will close out its road trip on Tuesday at nationally ranked Mississippi State.