ISLANDERS (2-16, 1-7) VS. SAM HOUSTON STATE (11-9, 4-4)
SATURDAY, FEB. 2 • 1 P.M.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS • DUGAN WELLNESS CENTER
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team opens a string of seven games out of nine at home when it takes on Sam Houston State on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Dugan Wellness Center. This will mark the only game this season that the Islanders play on campus.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, five months heading into today's matchup.
• Johnathan Jordan had a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds against Southeastern Louisiana for his third career double-double.
• The Islanders posted their seventh game with 10 or fewer turnovers on Saturday when they had just nine turns at Southeastern Louisiana. That followed a season-high 20 turnovers at Nicholls the game before.
• Junior Will Nelson has three double-doubles in his last four games and has topped double-digit rebounds in each of the last four. He is now averaging 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in league play.
• Texas A&M - Corpus Christi had its worst game of the season at the free-throw stripe on Saturday, going 11-for-22, just the second time it has been under 60 percent in a game. The Islanders are shooting .097 higher at the line this year than they did a year ago.
• 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 are 5-11 all-time against Sam Houston State, including a 61-57 loss to the Bearkats when the team teams met at the start of January in Huntsville. Overall, the Islanders have a 3-4 record against SHSU in Corpus Christi, but that mark includes a 70-68 win over SHSU in the Dugan Wellness Center in 2010. Should the Islanders win Saturday's game, it would mark the third straight year in which the two teams split the regular-season series.
In the first matchup between the teams this season, SHSU used a late 10-2 run to rally past the Islanders at Johnson Coliseum. The Bearkats had four players in double figures in winning their conference opener.Johnathan Jordan led the Islanders with 13 points and added five assists, five rebounds and two steals in the loss. Darius Gatson led all players with 18 points for the Bearkats.
SCOUTING THE BEARKATS
Sam Houston State continues to have one of the most balanced attacks in the Southland Conference. Darius Gatson is the team's leading scorer at just 8.9 points per game, but SHSU has eight different players averaging 5.6 points per game or more on the season. Terrance Motley leads the Bearkats on the glass at 5.8 rebounds per game, but six different players for SHSU average 3.1 or more.
After winning their conference opener against the Islanders, the Bearkats won three of the next four to sit among the conference leaders at 4-1. But a home, overtime loss to Oral Roberts started a three-game losing streak for SHSU, with the Bearkats dropping games at Southeastern and in overtime at Nicholls last weekend. In that game, the Colonels overcame an 18-point second half deficit to come back in the victory.
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 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 12.9 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 114 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 89 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 and he is just seven free throws away from cracking the single-season top 10.
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 third in the Southland. On Jan. 12 at Lamar, he posted 11 assists, matching the school record, and had his second career double-double. Over the last five games, he has posted 38 assists to 15 turnovers, adding nine-assist games at McNeese and vs. UCA.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having grabbed five-plus rebounds nine times this year, including a career-high 10 last game. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he is second in the Southland at 35.7 minutes per game. He has been on the court for 37 minutes or more 11 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 12.3 per game – fewer than their opponents' 12.6 – and ranked 74th in the nation entering this week. The Islanders have posted 10 turnovers or fewer in three of the last four games, including nine last game at Southeastern. They have six 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.
Last Thursday was a distinct exception, as the Islanders turned the ball over 20 times with Nicholls tallying just three steals. It marked just the fourth game this season that the Islanders had more than 15 turnovers (19 against TLU, 18 against Oklahoma, 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.
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 .697 clip that has them second in the Southland. The Islanders have three regulars shooting .748 or better. Hameed Ali leads the way at .833, while Joy Williamson is connecting at a .750 rate and Johnathan Jordan is shooting .748. At McNeese State, the Islanders went 22-for-27, led by a 12-for-13 performance by Jordan. However, last time out, the Islanders went just 11-for-22 at the line, with Will Nelson going 0-for-5.
In 2011-12, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi ranked 331st in the nation in free-throw shooting. As of Jan. 31, the Islanders sat 146th in the nation this year. They have shot .667 or better in 10 of the last 12 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 has really heated up on both ends since beginning conference play. 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. He added his second double-double against Oral Roberts, when he had 18 points and 10 rebounds. He then posted double-doubles in both games last weekend at Nicholls and Southeastern La. His career high in points is 28, when he added eight rebounds against Houston.
The junior college transfer is averaging 13.9 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Islanders, including an average of 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in conference contests. With his five double-digit rebound games in conference play, Nelson sits atop the league. He and SFA's Taylor Smith are the only two players with four double-doubles in Southland play. He has had at least eight rebounds in 12 of 18 games.