ISLANDERS (1-11, 0-2) AT MCNEESE STATE (6-7, 0-3)
THURSDAY, JAN. 10 • 8 P.M.
LAKE CHARLES, LA. • BURTON COLISEUM
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team remains on the road for its third straight contest when it takes on McNeese State on Thursday in Lake Charles. The Islanders are coming off a 61-57 loss to Sam Houston State, while McNeese is playing its fourth game in a span of eight days.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and nine days heading into today's matchup.
• The Islanders have shot 60 percent or better from the line in 11 of their 12 games, and have a .694 free-throw percentage – second best in the Southland and an improvement of .094 from a season ago.
• Johnathan Jordan leads the team in points in the paint, with 74, despite the fact that he is the shortest player on the team at 5-foot-10. He has also posted five rebounds or more six times this year.
• The Islanders had six different players score at least six points against Sam Houston State, their best scoring distribution this season. Freshman Cole Martinez had a career-high six in the loss.
• The Islanders won the battle of the boards at Sam Houston State, 31-30, just the third time this season that they have outrebounded their opponent.
• 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 will face the Cowboys for the eighth time since the program ascended to Division I for the 1999-2000 season. McNeese State has a 4-3 lead in the all-time series, including a 3-0 mark in Lake Charles. McNeese State has won three straight games over the Islanders, including a 71-69 victory last year at the American Bank Center.
The most recent contest was an interesting one between the two teams. The Cowboys never trailed in the game, but the Islanders gave them everything they could handle. After McNeese went to the locker room with a 39-31 lead, the Islanders scored the first five points of the second half to make it a one-possession ballgame. The home squad got as close as one point, at 61-60 with 1:56 left, but a Rudy Turner three-point play changed the momentum and the Cowboys were able to hold on for the two-point win.
Among returning players, the Islanders got 11 points each out of Johnathan Jordan and Nate Maxey. Jordan added nine assists, while Maxey had seven blocks – at that time matching the school record. McNeese State had four players in double figures in the contest – departed players Rudy Turner and Patrick Richard, and returners Jeremie Mitchell (18 points) and Dontae Cannon (14 points, six rebounds, five assists).
In a scheduling oddity, the Cowboys will be playing their fourth game in the last eight days, while the Islanders will be playing just their second contest over that same span. McNeese fell to Northwestern State, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls in their opening three games, the first two coming on the road. The Islanders fell in a back-and-forth affair at SHSU, 61-57.
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 74 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 47 free throws. Of his 45 two-point field goals on the season, 37 of them have come in the paint. He has shot 42.1 percent inside the arc on the year.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 4.2 assists per game this year, he sits third in the Southland, a statistic that is at least partially hampered by the Islanders' shooting struggles on the season.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having grabbed five-plus rebounds six times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he is second in the Southland at 34.8 minutes per game. Shackled by three first-half fouls, he was on the court for just 29 minutes at Sam Houston State.
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.
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 eight games, A&M - Corpus Christi has 25 offensive fouls, accounting for over 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. After going without an offensive foul at Oklahoma, the Islanders were whistled for a whopping seven offensive fouls last game at SHSU.
AS THE ISLANDERS TURN
Despite the Islanders' struggles in the win column and with offensive fouls, the team has been surprisingly efficient when it comes to turnovers. A&M - Corpus Christi is averaging 12.6 per game – fewer than their opponents' 13.1 per game – and ranked 81st in the nation as of Jan. 6. 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 48th toughest in terms of Division I opponents. The Islanders are one of three Southland teams in the top 50, with McNeese State (16) and Northwestern State (7) 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). 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 10 wins, and eight of their first 12 games have come away from the American Bank Center. The Southland has three teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI – Northwestern State (45), Stephen F. Austin (62) and McNeese State (81). Oral Roberts is next at 147, though ORU's ranking dropped after two wins.
In the loss at SHSU, one of the main reasons the Islanders were in the game was because of the contributions they got from their role players. Due to foul trouble, Johnathan Jordan and Will Nelson – the top two scorers on the team – were limited to 14 combined minutes in the first half. But the Islanders had six different players score at least six points – Jordan, Nelson, Joy Williamson, Brandon Pye, Hameed Ali and Cole Martinez. Martinez' six were a career high, as he knocked down a three and finished off a three-point play.