TEXAS A&M - CORPUS CHRISTI (1-10) AT RICE (8-4)
Wednesday, Dec. 28 • 7 p.m. CT
Tudor Fieldhouse (5,208) • Houston, Texas
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team faces its final pre-conference tune up on Wednesday, Dec. 28, when it heads to Tudor Fieldhouse for a matchup with Rice at 7 p.m. The game will be a homecoming for Islanders coach Willis Wilson, as the longtime veteran of college basketball is the all-time winningest coach in school history and played four years in the Owls backcourt.
The Islanders have lost eight straight contests, including two in the City of Lights at the tail end of the Las Vegas Classic last week. A&M - Corpus Christi suffered a pair of close defeats, 61-52 to Bethune Cookman and 68-65 to Kennesaw State. Myron Dempsey re-emerged as a force on the boards, totaling 21 rebounds over the two games.
Rice is 8-4 on the year after a momentous 65-58 win over Texas A&M on Dec. 22 in College Station. Four players scored in double figures and NCAA rebounding leader Arsalan Kazemi had 10 points and 13 boards in the win. The Owls held the Aggies to 3-of-13 shooting from behind the arc.
• Myron Dempsey has back-to-back games with double-digit boards, snaring 11 against BCU and 10 against Kennesaw State.
• Islanders head coach Willis Wilson is the all-time winningest coach in Rice history and was a four-year letterwinner for the Owls.
• After an amazing five-game stretch, Terence Jones has cooled off the last two contests, but is still averaging 15.6 points and shooting .465 beyond the arc in December.
• Johnathan Jordan is second in the Southland Conference with 3.9 assists per game.
• Chris Hawkins-Mast scored a career-high 22 points at West Virginia and went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.
LAST TIME OUT
The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi men's basketball team saw a halftime lead evaporate as Kennesaw State went 24-for-30 at the free throw line in the second half in overcoming a 16-point deficit on the way to a 69-65 victory over the Islanders on Friday afternoon. The Islanders (1-10) were led by Myron Dempsey with a career-high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds for a double-double. Chris Hawkins-Mast added 11, while Hameed Ali and Terence Jones scored 10 apiece as Texas A&M – Corpus Christi placed four players in double digits.
SCOUTING THE OWLS
The Owls are flying high after a 65-58 win over Texas A&M on Dec. 22 in College Station. Rice put four players in double digits, with Arsalan Kazemi delivering a double-double with 10 points and 13 boards. Tamir Jackson had 13 points to lead Rice in the win.
Kazemi leads the team in both scoring (14.0) and on the boards (12.3), while Jackson has chipped in 13.9. Jackson is atop the team in assists (42), while Kazemi tops the squad in steals (23). Omar Orabi has 16 blocks, one more than Kazemi for the team lead.
The Owls had lost back-to-back home games, to Lamar and to Temple, prior to the momentous victory over A&M. The Owls are 6-2 this season at Tudor Fieldhouse, with three wins over non-Division I opponents in addition to victories over Southern, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Florida A&M.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
Despite the physical proximity of the two schools, this will be the first meeting between the Islanders and Rice in program history. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi has played road games at Houston (0-4) and Texas Southern (1-0) in the city, but never at Rice. This is the second game against a Conference USA opponent for the Islanders, with a loss to Houston on Dec. 3.
TWO THE HARD WAY
Junior college transfer Myron Dempsey has been strong both on the offensive end and on the glass this year. Against Utah State, he delivered his finest performance, tallying a double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds in leading the Islanders to the upset victory.
But looking closer at the stats, it is amazing to see just how Dempsey has collected his points this year. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native has scored a total of 94 points. Of those, 84 have come from in the paint, including 42 of his 43 field goals. The junior also has 36 second-chance points on the year.
The long, athletic rebounder is currently third in the Southland Conference with his 7.9 rebounds per game after cleaning the glass 21 times in two games in Vegas.
Thirty-nine of his 87 boards have come in the offensive end, a league-best 3.5 per contest. He played last season at Redlands Community College, where he was the team's leading rebounder and led the squad to a 19-2 record down the stretch.
GUESS WHO'S BACK IN TOWN
Head Coach Willis Wilson will return to the Rice campus as a head coach for the first time since wrapping up his last of 16 seasons heading the Owls program, in 2007-08. The bench boss won a school-record 219 games for Rice and led the team to three NIT appearances, including 22 wins in 2003-04.
Wilson also spent five seasons as an assistant for the Owls and spent four years as a player for the school. He was a Will Rice College Fellow in his time as a player for the Owls.
FINDING THE RANGE
Junior Terence Jones is the team's leading returning scorer from last season, but had struggled to heat up in the offensive end over the first four games of the season. But December has shone brightly on him, starting against Texas Tech, as the Baltimore native went off for a career-high 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
He has had back-to-back games where he struggled from the field, but he has still been impressive this month. He is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 45.6 percent from downtown since the TTU game.
At Houston, he went 5-for-9 from the field and scored a pedestrian 12 points. In the South Alabama affair, Jones upped the ante from the outside, burying his first four threes en route to 17 more points. At West Virginia, he went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and tallied his second 20-point game of the season. He then matched his career high at Missouri State with five triples and led all scorers with 19 points.
Jones now has 103 career threes, the sixth player in school history to top 100. Travis Bailey (2001-05) is the school's record holder with 169 triples, with Aaron White (2002-06) just behind at 163. Former Jones teammate Kevin Palmer (2008-10) is just ahead of Jones, in fifth with 105.
After being a role player in his first season for the Islanders, senior Chris Hawkins-Mast has emerged as one of the team's go-to guys on the offensive end. Hawkins-Mast is second on the team with his 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
After strong performances in the exhibition and first game of the year, he had gone cold for a couple games before re-emerging with 16 points and nine boards against Texas Tech. Then on Dec. 17 against WVU, he delivered a career-best 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting and an 8-of-10 performance at the line.
The native of Washington, D.C., attended a pair of junior colleges before landing at the Island University prior to the 2010-11 season. He went by the name "Chris Mast" a year ago, but chose to use his full legal name to honor his mother, whose maiden name is Hawkins.