ISLANDERS (1-12, 0-3) AT LAMAR (2-14, 0-4)
SATURDAY, JAN. 12 • 6 P.M.
BEAUMONT, TEXAS • MONTAGNE CENTER
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (ADAM SPOLANE)
THE OPENING TIP
Playing its eighth road game in the last 10, the Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team will face Lamar in Beaumont on Saturday. The Islanders are coming off a 75-71 loss at McNeese State on Thursday, while Lamar fell to Sam Houston State, 68-57.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and 11 days heading into today's matchup.
• The Islanders have shot 60 percent or better from the line in 12 of their 13 games, and have a .708 free-throw percentage – second best in the Southland and an improvement of .108 from a season ago.
• Will Nelson had 24 points and nine rebounds at McNeese State, his third game with 20 points or more this season.
• Johnathan Jordan leads the team in points in the paint, with 76, despite the fact that he is the shortest player on the team at 5-foot-10.
• A&M - Corpus Christi had seven turnovers last time out, the fourth time this season with fewer than 10 turns.
• 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 and Cardinals meet for the 11th time since the Islanders restarted their athletics program in 1999. Lamar is 6-4 against Texas A&M - Corpus Christi, with matching 3-2 marks both in Corpus Christi and in Beaumont. The Cardinals have won the last two matchups against the Islanders after A&M - Corpus Christi won four straight contests against Lamar, sweeping the season series in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Last season, the two squads opened the Southland season by matching up at the American Bank Center. The Cardinals, led by 31 points from Mike James, knocked off the home squad 74-58. James went 12-for-16 from the field, knocking down four threes, en route to a stellar performance. However, of the 74 points scored in that game, only four were scored by players who are currently on the team. On the Islanders side, Johnathan Jordan scored 13 points, while Nate Maxey added eight from the returners.
EARNING THEIR STRIPES
The Islanders' struggles at the free-throw line were well documented last year. A&M - Corpus Christi shot just 360-for-600 (.600) at the line a year ago.
But this year, the team has improved significantly, hitting at a .708 clip that has them second in the Southland. The Islanders have four regulars shooting .703 or better, with Zane Knowles (10-for-18, .556) the only player with more than five attempts to sit below that threshhold. Hameed Ali leads the way at .826, while Joy Williamson is second at .759. Last time out, the Islanders went 22-for-27 at the line, led by a 12-for-13 performance by Johnathan Jordan.
In 2011-12, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi ranked 331st in the nation in free-throw shooting. As of Jan. 6, the Islanders sat 153rd in the nation this year. They have shot .600 or better in all but one game.
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 12.2 per game – fewer than their opponents' 12.8 per game – and ranked 81st in the nation as of Jan. 6. The Islanders posted just seven turnovers at McNeese State, their fourth 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.
WHERE THERE'S A WILL...
No newcomer on the Islanders roster came in with higher expectations than junior Will Nelson. The skilled wing was expected to play a major role in the team's offensive output, and he has shown on several occasions that he has the ability to fulfill those expectations.
The McNeese State contest was the most recent example, as the Louisiana native thrived in his return to his home state, knocking down four threes en route to 24 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes of action. It marked Nelson's third game this season with 20 points or more and his seventh with at least eight rebounds.
He posted the lone double-double for the Islanders this season with 24 points and 14 rebounds against Stephen F. Austin, going 9-for-17 from the field. His career high in points is 28, when he added eight rebounds against Houston. In that game, though, he went 9-for-28 from the floor, the second-most attempts in a single game in Islanders lore.
The junior college transfer is averaging 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Islanders, both marks leading the team. He has struggled a bit with his accuracy, though, shooting .357 overall and .310 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.
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.
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 12.3 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 76 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 59 free throws, including a 12-for-13 performance at the line against McNeese. His 12 free throws are tied for fourth-most in a game in Islanders history.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 4.5 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. He is just three assists away from becoming the sixth player in Islanders history with 200 career assists, and is on pace to crack the top four by the end of his sophomore 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 35.0 minutes per game. He has been on the court for 37 minutes or more six times this year.
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.
HE IS AN ENGLISHMAN...
In a freshman class that is punctuated by a trio of skilled guards – Brandon Pye, Jelani Currie and Cole Martinez – the first-year player who has shined brightest has been a post from Leighton Buzzard, England, Dale Francis. The Canarias Basketball Academy product has been one of the most consistent performers for the Islanders as of late.
In the last five games, Francis has averaged 25.2 minutes, including a career-high 30 last time out. A strong defender, Francis emerged on the offensive end in Lake Charles, posting six points on 3-of-4 shooting and snaring five rebounds, three offensive.