The lights come up on the 2009-10 season this weekend for the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team as it heads to Lubbock for the Duel in the Desert hosted by Texas Tech. The Islanders open the tournament on Friday at 8 p.m. against Oregon State. On Saturday at 6 p.m., they take on the host Red Raiders with Sunday's contest at 1 p.m. with South Dakota.
All three games will be available on ESPN 1230 KSIX. Live audio and live stat links can be found on www.goislanders.com.
The Islanders return an experience squad in head coach Perry Clark's third season. They return 87.6% of their scoring, nearly 94% of their rebounding, 90.4% of their assists and 84.3% of their steals. After returning no players with more than a year of college experience a season ago, this year's team returns 12 letterwinners including seven players who started 16-or-more games for A&M-Corpus Christi in 2008-09. Of last year's regulars only Tim Green who completed his eligibility does not return.
Last year's team was led by Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Kevin Palmer, who led the league in scoring with 18.2 points a game on the year and 19.2 p.p.g. in SLC play. Palmer was selected to the first-team All-Southland Conference preseason team and has been named by a handful of magazines as the preseason choice to earn Player of the Year honors. Aside from his scoring proficiency, the senior finished 11th in the nation in steals with 2.6 a game and set a single-season mark with 86 swipes.
Three other players who averaged more than eight points a game also return. Demond Watt averaged 8.2 points a game and a team-best 6.7 rebounds a season ago. Justin Reynolds, who was named to the preseason All-Southland Conference second team, and Shamar Coombs each averaged 8.1 a game. Reynolds added 4.7 boards a contest, while Coombs was second with 56 assists.
A&M-Corpus Christi opens the season against Oregon State, which finished 18-18 a year ago, won last year's College Basketball Invitational. They return four starters from that team with nine letterwinners and are led by senior forward Roeland Schaftenaar. Schaftenaar averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Fellow senior Seth Tarver returns after scoring 8.0 points a game.
The contest for the Islanders against the Beavers marks the second straight year the Islanders have faced the champion of the College Basketball Invitational. A year ago the Islanders faced Tulsa which won the inaugural CBI crown. It is also the second time the teams have met with the first meeting in Corvallis, Ore. The Beavers handed the Islanders an 82-70 defeat during A&M-Corpus Christi's first season in 1999-2000.
On the second night, A&M-Corpus Christi will play the host Red Raiders, who are coming off a 14-19 campaign. Junior guard John Roberson is the top returning scorer for Texas Tech with 13.9 points a game. Also returning is Nick Okorie, who averaged 11.5 p.p.g., and Mike Singletary, who scored 11.1 a game. Singletary was the team's top rebounder with 5.7 a contest.
The meeting is the third between the two teams, but first since the Islanders won 86-80 during the 2000-01 season. Former Islander Michael Hicks led the Islanders with 33 points. It is one of six wins for the Islanders against a BCS program.
On the final day of the tournament, the Islanders face Division I newcomer South Dakota. The Coyotes are coming off a 20-9 season. Senior forward Tyler Cain averaged a double-double a season ago with 15.4 points and 11.0 rebounds. Sophomore guard Louie Krogman averaged 12.8 points a game and was second with 76 assists, while senior Roman Gentry tallied 12.2 a game.