LAKE CHARLES – Dru Kuxhausen drained the sixth of his six three-pointers with 56 seconds to play in overtime to give McNeese a 3-point lead over Nicholls, then sealed the win with two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to lift the Cowboys to an exciting 80-74 win over the Colonels in front of an H&HP Arena record crowd of 3,623 on Wednesday night.
The win was the seventh straight for McNeese as it improves to 12-9 overall and 7-3 in Southland Conference play, moving one game closer to Nicholls who fell to 14-8 and 8-3.
Sha’markus Kennedy, the two-time reigning league player of the week, recorded his third straight double-double and ninth of the season with 16 points and a career-high 20 rebounds while A.J. Lawson added 13 points and 11 boards for his second double-double on the year.
But it was Kuxhausen’s electrifying threes that energized the crowd with his six treys, one of them from about 35 feet, that guided him to a team-high 22 points on the night. Roydell Brown added 15 points to cap McNeese’s double-digit scorers.
“Heck of a win for our group,” said head coach Heath Schroyer. “They’re a very good opponent and extremely talented. They had a really good plan. They took us out of a lot of stuff offensively but we found a way to win. The guys really gutted it out.”
McNeese had a chance to win the game in regulation but Trey Johnson’s three-pointer at the buzzer fell just off the mark.
“I thought when we went into overtime, they had a lot of the momentum but we were able to figure out ways to get stops, and obviously, Dru made a big three. Guys just stepped up and made plays.”
Another of those big plays occurred with 27 seconds to play in overtime and McNeese holding a 78-74 lead with Lawson at the free throw line for a 1-and-1. He missed the front end and Sam Baker streaked through the baseline to pull out the offensive board, got the ball to Kuxhausen who was then fouled which led to his game-sealing free throws.
Eleven of Kennedy’s 20 rebounds came off the offensive glass as the Cowboys, as a team, pulled down 18 offensive boards which led to 24 second chance points.
McNeese led 37-35 at the half but neither team held more than a six-point lead in the 45 minutes. There were nine ties and 23 lead changes in the game as well.
Nicholls, who entered the game winners of three straight, led for most of the first 10 minutes of the second half but never by more than four points. The Colonels went up 53-50 with 12:54 to play following a Ryghe Lyons dunk and for the next 3 ½ minutes, neither team was able to score points.
The drought ended with a Kuxhausen 3 to tie the game at 53-53 with 9:38 to play, the Baker followed with a three of his own to put the Cowboys up 56-53 at the 8:59 mark.
Nicholls came back with back-to-back threes of its own to knot the game up a 56-56 with 7:44 to play. That was followed by a Kennedy basket and a Kuxhausen 3 from near half court as the McNeese lead grew to 63-58 with 6:01 remaining.
The Colonels answered with two more long balls to go up 64-63 but another Baker trey put McNeese back on top at 66-64 with 3:55 to play in regulation.
The Colonels’ Warith Alatishe hit two free throws with 9.6 seconds to play in regulation to tie the game at 70-70. That led to Johnson’s game-winning three-pointer attempt that fell off its mark at the buzzer.
McNeese outscored Nicholls 10-4 in overtime including a 6-0 run to close out the final minute of play.
The attendance broke the record of 3,565 that saw McNeese fall to Stephen F. Austin back on Dec. 21.
“It’s a great win for us,” said Schroyer. “I just want to thank the students, Lake Charles, Southwest Louisiana. It was an unbelievable environment. This is what college basketball looks like.”
Fans will get another chance to see the Cowboys in action on Saturday when they host Lamar in the Battle of the Border matchup.