December 3, 2008

STRONG SECOND HALF LEADS ISLANDERS OVER HILLTOPPERS

The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team used balanced scoring and a strong second half to knock off a feisty St. Edward's team 84-70 Wednesday night on Stripes Court at the American Bank Center to move back over .500

The Islanders (4-3) had five players in double digits led by Demond Watt, who scored a career-high 19 points breaking the mark of 15 he set in the last game versus UNC-Wilmington. Justin Reynolds added a season-high 16 points as did Kevin Palmer. Filip Toncinic came off the bench with 11.

"I am proud with the way we gutted out this win because I'm not quite sure if we had our legs," said Islander head coach Perry Clark. "A year ago, I am not sure if we have the toughness mentally to fight and gut out a win like this."

After trailing most of the first half and 38-36 at the intermission, the Islanders took just their second lead, 40-38, on a three-point basket by LaMarr Drake.

The Hilltoppers (4-2) scored six straight points taking a 44-40 lead on a layup by Taylor Mullenax.

The Islanders still trailed by four, 48-44, just under four minutes into the half when they went on a 12-3 run to take the lead for good. Baskets in the paint by Toncinic and Watt began the run as A&M-Corpus Christi tied the game at 48 with 14:44 remaining.

Reynolds broke the tie with his second three-point basket of the season. Five straight points by Palmer, who finished just shy of his third straight 20-point game, on a lay-in and a trey gave the hosts a 56-51 lead with 10:37 left.

Reggie Shanks twice pulled St. Edward's back to within a point. The last time came with 7:58 remaining at 60-59. Shanks led the Hilltoppers with 13 points.

Reynolds helped the Islanders finally shake the visitors.

After Toncinic made the first of two free throws, Reynolds putback the miss and was fouled on the attempt as TAMUCC went on a 10-0 run. The sophomore, who had nine rebounds to just miss his first double-double converted the three-point play with 7:29 left for a five-point lead.

Following a jumper by Drake, Reynolds again pulled down a missed free throw by a teammate and turned it into a basket for a 68-59 lead with 6:29 left. Drake then hit a pair of free throws after a technical foul on Jannik Zimmer for an 11-point advantage, 70-59.

Mullenax, who had 12 points to finish six under his Hilltopper-best average of 18, scored in the paint to pull his team back within nine with 5:33 left. St. Edward's would get no closer.

The Islanders would extend their lead to as many 16 down the stretch with 1:41 left.

In the first half, A&M-Corpus Christi, which had hit over 50% of its shots in its previous two games, struggled offensively hitting 37% of its shots and led only briefly 23-21. The Hilltoppers, who led by as many as seven in the first half, hit 46.7% of their shots including four threes.

"(St. Edward's) did a good job of running its offense in the first half and we didn't really do a good job of running our defense," said Clark. "I was concerned about our legs. We need to get them back for TCU."

Watt kept the Islanders close with 14 points, while Palmer had three steals in the first 20 minutes.

In the game, TAMUCC out-rebounded the visitors 42-37. Aside from Reynolds' nine, Watt and Toncinic each added eight. The Islanders, who forced 19 turnovers while committing 15, scored 21 points off turnovers to the Hilltoppers' 10. The Islanders also won the battle of second-chance points 24-9.

The Islanders head to Fort Worth for their next game when they visit TCU on Saturday at 2 p.m. They return to the Stripes Court on Monday when Texas A&M-International visits at 7 p.m.