Northeastern State has found its identity, and that's bad news for other Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association teams.
With conference play up next, the NSU women posted its third straight dominant defensive showing in a 67-39 rout of Southeastern Oklahoma State on Saturday.
"I think our kids are really understanding how to impact the game defensively as a team," NSU coach Randy Gipson said. "I think we came out from the start with everybody working hard to stay in front of the ball and help each other out. It starts there."
NSU (3-4) scored 15 of the game's first 19 points as the RiverHawks maintained a double-digit lead for the final 32 minutes and 59 seconds of the contest. In fact, NSU found it increasingly difficult to miss field goals early on, making 10 of its first 14 attempts from the field and seven of the its first nine 3-point attempts.
"We had some spurts there where we shot the ball real well," said Gipson, whose team shot 44.8 percent (13 of 29) from the field and eight-of-14 (57.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
"For the most part, we executed on offense and made good decisions on when to pass and when to shoot."
No disputing that.
Four NSU players scored in double figures, led by Fontana Tate and Jamie Jackson who both finished with 12 points. For Jackson, the point total was her career-high, which came courtesy of a four-of-eight effort from the field.
"Definitely a big improvement," said Jackson, a freshman guard from Beebe, Ark., who was also four-of-four from the free-throw line.
"I feel like it's mostly the defense [helping me get better]. The game really is about defense. If you have good defense, the offense will come."
That's how it worked all day for the RiverHawks — who held an opponent to 39 points for the second straight contest. In fact, NSU held two straight opponents to under 40 points for the first time since 2004.
Jackson's teammate, Kate Bellamy, tied a career-high with 10 points on three-of-six shooting from the field. The sophomore guard from Australia was also two-of-four from 3-point range and two-of-two at the foul line.
"I got good passes from my team and really enjoyed it out there," said Bellamy, who also tallied 10 points in NSU's 77-39 trouncing of Arkansas-Fort Smith earlier in the week.
Chelsey Beathard chipped in with 11 points and six rebounds for the RiverHawks, who out-rebounded the Savage Storm, 44-31.
"Second half, that was one thing we were worried about," Gipson said of rebounding the basketball. "We just wanted to make sure we stayed with it on the boards and on our block-outs."
By halftime, NSU led 41-26 and was well on its way to a third straight victory. The Savage Storm (4-2) — averaging 75.6 points coming into the contest — was never able to add any suspense to the game, trailing by at least 16 throughout the second 20 minutes.
Haley Schaefer had 12 points and was the lone player to score in double figures for the Savage Storm, which finished the game one-of-18 on 3-point attempts.
Now NSU will enter into MIAA play with a pair of road contests at Lincoln and Lindenwood this weekend. And the RiverHawks will carry a boat-load of confidence into conference play.
"We still have a way to go," Bellamy said. "But we've been practicing well, and once conference starts, we'll step up even more."
NSU 67, SE Oklahoma St. 39
SEOSU 26 13 -- 39
NSU 41 26 -- 67
SEOSU (4-2): Haley Schaefer 12, Demi Koelzer 6, Emily Williams 6, Baxter 4, English 3, Richards 2, Thames 2, Dorsey 2, Kiser 1, Hill 1.
NSU (3-4): Jamie Jackson 12, Fontana Tate 12, Chelsey Beathard 11, Kate Bellamy 10, Sagely 6, Walker 6, Jones 4, Fox 2, Cowan 2, Lewis 2.