Northwestern State, Florida have contrasting styles

AUSTIN, Texas — Something has to give when No. 14 seeded Northwestern State faces No. 3 seed Florida in the second round of the NCAA men’s tournament South Region on Friday at the Frank Erwin Center.

Tip-off is scheduled for 6:27 p.m. It will be televised on truTV (Cable Ch. 51).

The strengths and styles of both teams are likely to clash as the high-scoring Demons (23-8) meet the defensive-minded Gators (26-7). Northwestern State averages 81 points per game, which leads the nation. Meanwhile, the Gators rank third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 53.7 points.

“This event is like the lottery,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose Gators are 0-6 this season in games decided by six points or less. “That’s what makes it so special is it’s so wide open, and anybody can beat anybody.”

Florida held four of its opponents below 40 points, 12 opponents under 50, and 23 under 60 this seaosn.

It’s not something Northwestern State is totally unused to. The Demons faced Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin three times this season. SFA led the NCAA in scoring defense at 51.0 per game.

In three games against SFA, the Demons scored 61, 63 and 68 points and went 2-1 against the Lumberjacks. The biggest win came when Northwestern State beat SFA 68-66 in the Southland Conference tournament final to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern State’s style is to substitute liberally. The Demons starters are averaging about 17 minutes per contest, with only Shamir Davis averaging more than 25. They also have five reserves averaging 18 or more minutes.

“I just think that is who we are. We played that way all year, and we have got to continue to do that,” Demons coach Mike McConathy said.

The Gators do not substitute as often. Their starters are averaging 26 minutes per game, with only guards Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbelkin logging more than 32 minutes per game.

“They’re a high-octane team offensively, and they pressure the ball on defense,” said Florida’s Eric Murphy, a first-team All-SEC forward. “We just got to be ready for that.”

The Demons’ last visit to the NCAA tournament was in 2006 as the No. 14 seed. It was highlighted with a 64-63 opening-round upset of then Big Ten champion Iowa.

Beating Florida might be an even bigger upset.

“I am hopeful that we can be close and we can be in position to where we can make a play at the end to win a ball game,” McConathy said. “I am confident in our ability to be in a tight game to be able to finish.”

Notes

The Demons are making their third appearance in the NCAA tournament, while the Gators are making their 16th straight trip. The Gators won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. ... This is the first meeting between the schools in men’s basketball. ... Florida is 5-0 all-time record against Southland Conference teams. It beat Southeastern Louisiana 82-43 on Dec. 19. ... Northwestern State has faced three SEC teams this season, losing to LSU (102-95), Texas A&M (78-65), and Arkansas (79-61).

... The winner of the Northwestern State and Florida will face either UCLA or Minnesota in the third round.