ISLANDERS (1-10, 0-1) AT SAM HOUSTON STATE (7-5, 0-0)
FRIDAY, JAN. 4 • 3:30 P.M.
HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS • JOHNSON COLISEUM
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team returns to conference play with a Friday afternoon matchup against Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. The Islanders are looking to snap a 10-game losing string as they enter the bulk of league play, while the Bearkats have won four straight.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and three days heading into today's matchup.
• Texas A&M - Corpus Christi has played the 44th toughest schedule in the nation according to RealTimeRPI.com. The team's game against Oklahoma marked its third against a BCS conference foe this year.
• Junior Joy Williamson has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games. He matched his career high with 14 at Oklahoma.
• The Islanders have split the season series with Sam Houston State in each of the last two seasons and four times overall. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, SHSU swept the season series.
• Will Nelson scored 24 points and snared 14 rebounds in the loss to SFA, the first double-double for an Islander this season.
• 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 and Bearkats will do battle for the 16th time since A&M - Corpus Christi restarted its intercollegiate athletics program in 1998. Sam Houston State holds a 10-5 edge in the series, including a 7-3 advantage in the last five years. The Islanders are 2-5 in Johnson Coliseum all-time.
Last year's contest against SHSU in Huntsville provided one of the signature moments in Willis Wilson's first season as head coach. The Islanders and Bearkats battled to the wire, and Hameed Ali's jumper from the corner with 0.3 seconds on the clock gave the visitors a 50-49 win over the Bearkats. In the contest between the teams in Corpus Christi, Steven Werner scored 23 points and had 12 rebounds as the Bearkats finished the game on a 13-4 run to rally past the Islanders, 61-53.
In the two games against the Bearkats last season, Johnathan Jordan averaged 11 points, 7 assists and 4.5 rebounds. SHSU's returning leader, Darius Gatson, averaged 8 points and 4.5 assists.
AS THE ISLANDERS TURN
Despite the Islanders' struggles in the win column, the team has been surprisingly efficient when it comes to turnovers. A&M - Corpus Christi is averaging 12.4 per game – fewer than their opponents' 12.9 per game – and ranked 42nd in the nation as of Dec. 30. The Islanders posted just nine turnovers against Stephen F. Austin, their third game this season with fewer than 10 turns. Earlier in the year, the Islanders took care of the ball like no other time in program history.After posting six turnovers at Utah State – the second lowest total in school lore – the Islanders matched the school record with only five turns against Houston.
The Oklahoma contest was an obvious exception, though. The Islanders turned the ball over 18 times, and unlike previous contests where offensive fouls were the primary culprit, many of the turns were unforced. In fact, with the score 32-18, the Islanders turned in defensive stops on five straight possessions – but on each offensive possession that followed, committed a turnover. It marked just the third game this season that the Islanders had more than 15 turnovers (19 against TLU, 16 at Toledo).
Nonetheless, it is a marked improvement from the ball control for the team from last season. A&M - Corpus Christi averaged 15.2 turnovers per game and ranked 291st in the country out of 338 teams. The Islanders had 14 games with 15 turnovers or more last year, and just three with 10 or fewer.
The Islanders have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this season, with RealTimeRPI showing their opposition as the 44th toughest in terms of Division I opponents. The Islanders are one of four Southland teams in the top 50, with McNeese State (4), Northwestern State (6), and Oral Roberts (50) also in that group. The website does not factor in games against non-Division I foes, of which the Islanders have played one (Texas Lutheran), as has Oral Roberts. Northwestern State has four wins over opponents not in D-I, while McNeese State has three.
The Islanders have played six games against teams that have at least nine wins, and seven of their first 11 games have come away from the American Bank Center. The Southland has three teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI – McNeese (45), Northwestern State (63) and SFA (51).
The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of just over 20 years, and are one of just a handful of teams nationally that have no seniors on their roster. In a fact that will make most reading this feel old, only one player – Will Nelson – was born in the 1980s. Just half of the Islanders roster is over 20 years old, and 10 of the players on the team are freshmen and sophomores.
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is also one of just eight teams that entered the season with an average of less than one year of experience per player. The Islanders had 14 years of college playing experience among their 15 players, though only nine of those years were at the Division I level.
In total, the Islanders started this season having played a total of 2,933 minutes in Division I, which comes out to just under 196 minutes per player.
One of the major characteristics of the recent Islanders struggles has also been the number of offensive fouls they have commmitted. In the last seven games, A&M - Corpus Christi has 18 offensive fouls, accounting for nearly 20 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 against UTSA in addition to two each against SFA, at Texas A&M and at Toledo. In a strange twist of the situation, the Islanders went without an offensive foul at Oklahoma, but had their highest number of turnovers since the season opener.
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 five straight starts.
The Oklahoma City native has been remarkably consistent on the year, posting eight games on the year with between 10 and 14 points. He is back over the 10-point barrier for his season average, clocking in at 10.2 heading into today's contest.
After struggling to the tune of 2-for-16 in the games against UTSA and SFA, Williamson bounced back in his return to his home state on Monday afternoon. Williamson matched his career high with 14 points, going 5-for-13 from the field to go along with a 3-for-4 performance at the line.
He hit at least one three-pointer in eight straight games, and leads the team with a .351 percentage behind the arc, and his .778 percentage at the line is second on the team. Perhaps most impressively, he has registered at least 30 minutes in eight of the last nine games, including a career-high 39 at Texas A&M. He is in the Southland's top 10 with his 30.5 minutes per game average.
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.
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.
The Stephen F. Austin contest provided one of the slowest starts in recent memory for the Islanders. Despite having several good looks at the basket, A&M - Corpus Christi opened the game coming up empty on their first 13 shots. By contrast, the Lumberjacks started the game 8-for-14 to open up a 16-1 lead on the Islanders.
The home squad rallied to hit nearly 50 percent of its shots the rest of the way (21-of-46), and used a 15-1 run around halftime to trim a 27-12 deficit to just one point at 28-27.
Unfortunately, the shooting divide has been a consistent characteristic of the recent struggles for the Islanders. In the last four games, A&M - Corpus Christi has not shot better than it did against SFA (.356), while the opposition has shot better than 50 percent in three of those games. The .293 shooting day at Oklahoma was the lowest offensive output this season, though the defense held OU to a .407 mark, the lowest since the opener against TLU.