ISLANDERS (1-8, 0-0) VS. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (9-1, 0-0)
SATURDAY, DEC. 28 • 3 P.M.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS • AMERICAN BANK CENTER
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team will open Southland Conference play on Saturday at 3 p.m. when it plays host to Stephen F. Austin. The Islanders have lost eight in a row, while SFA enters the matchup atop the league with its 9-1 non-conference record.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, three months and 26 days heading into today's matchup.
• The Islanders are 3-3 in their Southland Conference openers dating back to 2006-07 and are also 3-3 in their first home conference games in the league.
• The Islanders had a disappointing offensive performance against UTSA, shooting 34.7 percent overall and 12.5 percent from long range. The starting lineup went 6-for-26 amd scored just 20 points.
• Junior Joy Williamson has scored in double figures in seven straight contests, pouring in between 10 and 14 points in each game.
• Johnathan Jordan was named to the Cousy Award Watch List on Friday and posted six assists in playing all 40 minutes against UTSA. However, his four points were a season low.
• Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is ineligible for the postseason because of poor results in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate. No Islander who has played under Wilson had anything to do with the subpar score.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
The Islanders have struggled historically against Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks have owned the all-time series with a 9-3 record, including nine wins in the last 10 meetings between the two teams. Head Coach Danny Kaspar, a Corpus Christi native, has led the Lumberjacks to a 4-1 record at the American Bank Center, the only loss coming on Feb. 28, 2007.
Last season, the Lumberjacks took both games against the inexperienced Islanders in dominant fashion. SFA spoiled Texas A&M - Corpus Christi's Homecoming with a 64-49 win, then dealt the Islanders their most lopsided loss in the Willis Wilson era with a 75-41 victory in Nacogdoches.
Johnathan Jordan had 14 points in his two games against SFA last year, while Nate Maxey posted five points and four blocks in the two games.
The Islanders got a strong performance from their bench in the game against UTSA, with 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting and over half of the team's rebounds. Will Nelson scored 13 points with seven boards off the bench, but committed five turnovers in the contest. Nate Maxey added six points (3-for-3) and two blocks, while Dale Francis scored four points (2-for-2) and had three rebounds.
Unfortunately, the starting lineup did not perform to the same standards. The starters scored just 20 points, went 6-for-26 from the field and no starter had more than three rebounds. Had it not been for Joy Williamson's 6-for-6 effort at the free-throw line, the output from the starters would have been even more dubious. He finished with 11 points.
PRIDE AND JOY
Among the Islanders, there is no personality quite like that of the appropriately-named Joy Williamson. The junior transfer's ebullient and energetic personality is matched only by his intensity and pace on the basketball court.
Williamson began the year as an excellent sixth man for the Islanders, and he still leads the team with 61 bench points on the season. He has been rewarded for his strong play with three straight starts.
The Oklahoma City native has been remarkably consistent over the last seven games, each time scoring between 10 and 14 points. His two field goals against UTSA were the fewest by the junior since hitting just one at Denver on Nov. 14.
He has hit at least one three-pointer in each of the last eight games, delivering the only Islanders bucket from behind the arc against the Roadrunners. He has at least one steal in every game this year, and is sixth in the Southland in the category. Perhaps most impressively, he has registered at least 30 minutes in each of the last seven games, including a career-high 39 at Texas A&M.
His finest game came against Houston, as the guard's offensive ability shined brightly. He went 6-for-9 from the field for 13 points, filling the stat sheet in all other aspects of his game as well. Williamson snared seven rebounds, dished out four assists to no turnovers and registered three steals, all in a career-high 33 minutes.
Williamson played two seasons at Redlands Community College, where he was coached by current Islanders assistant Yaphett King. The Oklahoma City native scored 18.7 points and grabbed 8.2 rebounds at Redlands after a standout high school career at Putnam City North High School.
Over the last five games, the Islanders struggles are easily seen on the stat sheet. On the defensive end, A&M - Corpus Christi has forced their opponents into 70 turnovers – two more than the Islanders have committed – so taking care of the basketball hasn't been the issue.
But in the other main categories, the difference is staggering. The Islanders have shot 38.4 percent overall, but have seen the opposition shoot 48.7 percent. From beyond the arc, the Islanders are shooting just 26.2 percent, but the opposition is shooting 42.2 percent. The Islanders have been outscored by an average of 5.8 points at the free-throw line as well.
On the boards, the Islanders are being outpaced 38.2 to 29.0 on average. While a disadvantage in this category would be expected with the Islanders' shooting woes, their opponents have 64 offensive boards, while the Islanders have snared just 90 defensive rebounds.
One of the major characteristics of the recent Islanders struggles has also been the number of offensive fouls they have commmitted. In the last five games, A&M - Corpus Christi has 16 offensive fouls, accounting for nearly 25 percent of their turnovers. The Islanders had five offensive fouls at South Alabama, in a game they lost by just seven points, and four at Iowa. They committed three last time out against UTSA in addition to two each at Texas A&M and at Toledo.
WHERE THERE'S A WILL...
Though his first five halves of Division I basketball were slightly disappointing, junior college transfer Will Nelson showed just what he was capable of in the second half against Utah State. Nelson scored 17 points in the half, nailing four threes, to spearhead the Islanders' comeback attempt.
He one-upped himself against Houston. Nelson scored 28 points, albeit on 9-for-28 shooting, to lead the way for the Islanders. His performance was accentuated by a 9-for-10 outing at the line, where he is hitting at a .688 clip this year.
He stumbled against Toledo and Iowa, with just nine points on 2-for-13 shooting combined, but bounced back at South Alabama. Against the Jaguars, he went 4-for-8 with 12 points and eight rebounds – his fourth game with eight boards or more on the year. He followed that up with a 17-point effort at Texas A&M, despite being limited by three first-half fouls. Against UTSA, he had 13 points and seven boards to lead all players.
The junior college transfer is averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Islanders, both marks leading the team. He has struggled a bit with his accuracy, though, shooting .336 overall and .244 from beyond the arc.
Nelson is attending his fifth different school in the last five years. He took last season off of basketball to focus on academics at Dodge City Community College. Prior to that, he played a year each at Hutchinson CC and Baton Rouge CC after graduating from Port Allen (La.) High School.
EASY AS PYE
Entering the season, the coaching staff was high on the outside shooting ability of the Islanders freshman guards. Early on, the youngsters struggled in their distance shooting this season. Mansfield, Texas, native Brandon Pye went 3-for-8 in the opener, but hit a skid after, going 1-for-12 from beyond the arc over the next five games.
At South Alabama, the youngster came alive, shooting 5-of-7 from downtown and 6-of-10 overall for a career-high 17 points. He played 32 minutes in the contest, and added career highs in steals (four), assists (two) and rebounds (five) without a turnover. He followed that up with another strong outing at Texas A&M, going 3-for-5 for eight points, but stumbled at UTSA, going 0-for-2 from the field.
He's only a sophomore, but Houston native Johnathan Jordan has been thrust into the role of leader on the young Islanders squad. Jordan led the Southland in assists per game in 2011-12, and despite his newbie status was also among the leaders in minutes per game. He was recently named to the Bob Cousy Award Watch List by the Basketball Hall of Fame, recognizing the top point guards in the nation.
Jordan was outstanding as a distributor a season ago, but his growth as a scorer is notable. After averaging 6.5 points last year, the point guard has contributed 11.9 points per game, largely on his ability to get to the rim and the free-throw line. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he leads the team with 50 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 43 free throws.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 4.8 assists per game this year, he sits third in the Southland. He is also strong on the glass, having grabbed seven-plus rebounds three times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale, with his 35.2 minutes per game second in the league.
The diminutive guard is one of the most athletic Islanders, as evidenced by his two slam-dunk contest championships, thanks to his 48-inch running vertical leap. His 138 assists last season set a school record.
COMING ON STRONG
Junior Zane Knowles has elevated his game recently for the Islanders. The transfer from Pearl River CC entered the year as the team's most physical big man, and he has used that size to his advantage as of late. Knowles increased his point total in each of his first six games, and has steadily improved upon his rebounding numbers as well.
He has struggled in his last three games – his only starts on the year. He has totaled just seven points and 10 rebounds, being limited to an average of 12.0 minutes of action. But against a physical Iowa team, Knowles rose to the occasion. He battled to eight rebounds (six on the offensive glass) and added a career-high 12 points as well. He went 6-for-10 from the field in 33 minutes of action.
A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Knowles played sparingly as a freshman at Grambling before electing to move on to Pearl River, where he was a First Team Mississippi All-Star.