ISLANDERS (2-14, 1-5) AT NICHOLLS (4-12, 3-3)
THURSDAY, JAN. 24 • 8 P.M.
THIBODAUX, LA. • STOPHER GYM
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team returns to the road for a swing through Louisiana, as it takes on Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana this weekend. The Islanders and Colonels will take the floor on Thursday night at Stopher Gym, with tipoff at approximately 8 p.m.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and 22 days heading into today's matchup.
• Over the last four games, sophomore Johnathan Jordan has posted 33 assists to just 10 turnovers. He has tallied at least nine dimes in three of the last four games.
• The Islanders are shooting .707 at the free-throw line on the year, including a .755 mark in league play. Sophomores Johnathan Jordan and Hameed Ali are a combined 41-for-49 (.837) in Southland contests.
• Junior Joy Williamson had a career-best 15 points against Central Arkansas, going 5-for-9 from the field, 2-for-3 beyond the arc and 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.
• A&M - Corpus Christi had 12 turnovers to UCA's 7, the first time in conference play that the Islanders have committed more turnovers than their opponents.
• 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 Nicholls will meet for the seventh time, with A&M - Corpus Christi holding a 4-2 edge in the series. The Islanders are 2-1 against the Colonels both in Thibodaux and in the Coastal Bend, but Nicholls has taken the last two contests, including a 65-61 final in Stopher Gym a season ago.
In last year's contest, the Islanders led, 52-51 with 7:08 to play, but Dantrell Thomas' three-pointer triggered a 6-0 run and the Colonels were able to hold off the visitors at the free-throw line for the victory. Thomas (23 points) and Sam McBeath (18) were the main offensive catalysts for Nicholls, while the Islanders got most of their offense from departed seniors Terence Jones (18) and Chris Hawkins-Mast (13).
SCOUTING THE COLONELS
Nicholls waded through a difficult non-conference schedule and has emerged with a solid start to their Southland regular season. The Colonels opened 1-12 before embarking on conference play, where they have gone 3-3 and sit in fifth place at this point in the season. Nicholls' lone non-conference win was also its only non-conference home game, a 92-79 defeat of New Orleans on Nov. 26. Since starting league play, the Colonels have alternated wins and losses with victories over Central Arkansas, McNeese State and Northwestern State.
Nicholls is led by Fred Hunter, who returns after missing last season due to injury. The big man is averaging 17.9 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season, while Dantrell Thomas (13.5) and T.J. Carpenter (11.5) have also averaged in double figures this season.
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 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 92 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 71 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 5.1 assists per game this year, he sits third in the Southland. Last week at Lamar, he posted 11 assists, matching the school record, and had his second career double-double. Over the last four games, he has posted 33 assists to just 10 turnovers, adding nine-assist games at McNeese and vs. UCA.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having grabbed five-plus rebounds eight times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he is second in the Southland at 35.5 minutes per game. He has been on the court for 37 minutes or more nine 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.
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 12.1 per game – fewer than their opponents' 12.8 – and ranked 52nd in the nation entering this week. 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.
SNAPPING THE STRING
The Islanders got off the schneid with a 62-56 win at Lamar on Jan. 12, 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 the visitors held them off.
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 .707 clip that has them second in the Southland. The Islanders have four regulars shooting .685 or better, with Zane Knowles (10-for-18, .556) the only player with more than six attempts to sit below that threshhold. Hameed Ali leads the way at .852, while Joy Williamson is connecting at a .750 rate. 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. 17, the Islanders sat 112th in the nation this year. They have shot .667 or better in eight of the last nine games.
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.
The Oklahoma City native has been remarkably consistent on the year, posting eight games on the year with between 10 and 14 points. He finally broke the 15-point barrier with his career-best performance against UCA last time out. He went 5-for-9 from the field, knocking down a pair of threes in a losing effort for the Islanders. That snapped a string where he failed to reach double figures in four straight contests.
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 at Oklahoma. 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.
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.
THE OOP TO HIS ALLEY
The most physically noticeable player on the Islanders is 6-foot-11 Nate Maxey. The big man has one of the biggest wingspans in the country with his 7-foot-10 reach, and he has already developed a reputation as one of the top shot blockers in the league. He backed up that reputation when he set a school record with nine swats against Houston.
The other play he has gained notoriety for has been when he is on the receiving end of an alley-oop, usually from fellow sophomore Johnathan Jordan. Maxey has finished off several alley-oops in the last four games, including a stunning reverse at McNeese State that was snubbed for SportsCenter's Top 10 plays. Maxey leads the Islanders with 24 dunks on the season.
His performance against UCA was his finest offensive game in an Islanders uniform. The big man played just 18 minutes, but went 6-for-8 from the field and scored a career-high 13 points. He also tallied four blocks and snared five rebounds in a losing effort. With 75 career blocks, he is only three away from passing Filip Toncinic for fifth on the Islanders' all-time list.
Over the last several games, the Islanders have seen better offensive play in part due to the fact that they are getting contributions from several players on the offensive end. The trend started at Sam Houston State, when, 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. At McNeese, the Islanders again had six players score at least six points, with Dale Francis and Nate Maxey replacing Pye and Martinez in the sextet.
At Lamar and against ORU, the Islanders saw just five players reach the six-point mark, but in the UCA contest A&M - Corpus Christi again had six players finish with at least six points. While leading scorers Johnathan Jordan (9) and Will Nelson (9) failed to break double digits, the Islanders got career highs from Williamson (15) and Maxey (13) in addition to 10 from Ali and six from Pye.