ISLANDERS (2-12, 1-3) VS. ORAL ROBERTS (8-8, 3-1)
THURSDAY, JAN. 17 • 7:30 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 returns to the Coastal Bend after playing eight of its last 10 on the road when it plays host to Oral Roberts on Thursday, Jan. 17. The Islanders are coming off a 62-56 win over Lamar that snapped a 12-game winless streak.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and 15 days heading into today's matchup.
• Johnathan Jordan matched the school record with 11 assists against Lamar, combining it with 15 points for his second career double-double.
• The Islanders have shot 70 percent or better from the line in five of their last six games, and have a .708 free-throw percentage this year – 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.
• A&M - Corpus Christi had 10 turnovers at Lamar, the fifth time this season with 10 or fewer turns.
• The Islanders have had just one double-digit rebound performance this year (Will Nelson vs. SFA). Their leading rebounder has had nine boards seven times.
• 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 Oral Roberts will meet for just the second time in program history and the first time as fellow Southland Conference members. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi won the lone matchup against the Golden Eagles, taking an 86-81 victory in overtime in the Dick's Sporting Goods Preseason NIT on Nov. 14, 2007.
In that game, the Islanders overcame a 16-point deficit to force the extra session before sinking 7-of-10 free throws in the extra session to post the victory. All five starters scored in double figures, with Tim Green leading the way with 20 points and Justin Reynolds posting 15 points and 13 rebounds. Marcus Lewis had 28 points and seven rebounds off the bench for ORU in the loss.
SCOUTING THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Oral Roberts enters this weekend at 8-8 overall and 3-1 in Southland play. The newest members of the league were selected as the preseason conference favorite, but dropped a contest to their chief rival for the title, Stephen F. Austin, 61-50 on Saturday in Tulsa. The Golden Eagles have had three of their losses come by four points or less, including a one-point defeat at the hands of Oklahoma on Nov. 28.
ORU has four players averaging in double figures, though Steven Roundtree has missed the last five games due to injury. Warren Niles leads the conference with 19.4 points per game (2.6 points ahead of his nearest competitor), while Damen Bell-Holter is one of the top big men in the league with his 14.2 point, 9.8 rebound average. Shawn Glover has added 11.9 points per game to go with his team-leading 23 blocks. No other player averages more than 4.7 points.
SNAPPING THE STRING
The Islanders got off the schneid with a 62-56 win at Lamar on Saturday, snapping a 12-game losing streak that dated back to the season opener. A&M - Corpus Christi jumped out to a 31-20 halftime lead after shooting 13-for-25 in the first half, delivering 11 of their 16 shots inside the arc. Lamar made a pair of strong runs at the Islanders, but A&M - Corpus Christi held them off at the free throw line.
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 12.0 per game – fewer than their opponents' 13.0 – and ranked 47th in the nation as of Jan. 13. The Islanders posted just seven turnovers at McNeese State and 10 at Lamar, their fourth and fifth games this season with 10 turns or fewer.
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 many of the turns were unforced. 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.
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 12.5 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 84 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 66 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 5.0 assists per game this year, he sits second in the Southland. His last time out at Lamar, he posted 11 assists, matching the school record, and had his second career double-double. He has 70 assists this season and 208 for his career, placing him sixth all-time.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having grabbed five-plus rebounds seven times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he is second in the Southland at 35.2 minutes per game. He has been on the court for 37 minutes or more seven 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.
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 .758. At McNeese State, the Islanders went 22-for-27, 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. 13, the Islanders sat 111th in the nation this year. They have shot .700 or better in five of the last six games.
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. It marked Nelson's third game this season with 20 points.
He posted the first 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, 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 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Islanders, including an average of 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in conference contests. He has struggled a bit with his accuracy, though, shooting .367 overall and .317 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 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 25.8 minutes, including a career-high 30 at McNeese State. 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.
One of the major characteristics of the recent Islanders struggles has been the number of offensive fouls they have commmitted. In the last 10 games, A&M - Corpus Christi has 29 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 at SHSU and two of their seven turnovers at McNeese State were on offensive violations.