ISLANDERS (5-10, 2-0) VS.
THE OPENING TIP
After sweeping its first conference weekend on the road, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team returns to the friendly confines of the American Bank Center on Thursday night for a matchup with reigning Southland Conference Tournament champ Northwestern State. It is the only matchup of the teams this season. The game is sponsored by KRIS 6 News.
• Having missed the first nine games with an injury, Rashawn Thomas has exploded in his first five college games, most recently posting a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards at ORU. He is averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
• Zane Knowles emerged from a slump with his fourth double-double of the year on Saturday, putting up 14 points and 10 rebounds.
• In the two road wins, six different players had double-digit scoring games. Only Rashawn Thomas finished with 10+ points both games.
• The Islanders' 81 points at UCA were the most since scoring 82 against UTSA on 2/22/12. It was the most in regulation in the Willis Wilson era.
• The Islanders took part in a 10-day, four-game tour of Italy in August, a trip that allowed them 10 extra days of practice prior to the tour.
• Though Coach Wilson has his most experienced team with the Islanders, only five players have more than one year of Division I playing experience (Ali, Knowles, Jordan, Douvier, King).
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
Northwestern State holds a 5-4 lead in the all-time series against the Islanders, having won four in a row against A&M-Corpus Christi. Mike McConathy's crew is 3-0 against Willis Wilson since he took the helm of the Islanders program, including double-digit wins in both games a year ago.
The Islanders won their conference opener for the first time since 2009-10. In each of the four times the team has won its opener, it has gotten off to a tremendous start. A&M-Corpus Christi started 5-0 in both 2008-09 and 2009-10 and began 7-0 in the 2006-07 championship season.
A JAW-DROPPING START
Freshman Rashawn Thomas was one of the most electrifying players for the Islanders over the summer. During the team's trip to Italy, he had a double-double in each of the team's four games.
But the fates turned another direction for Thomas. The Oklahoma City native fractured his jaw on Nov. 7, the day before the Islanders' first game of the year against Huston-Tillotson. He missed the first nine games of the season.
Any doubts about the 6-foot-7 forward being tentative were instantly alleviated. Thomas missed his first two shots, but converted his first career points at the 8:25 mark. By the time the dust had settled in the game, the freshman had 12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He became the first Islander freshman with a double-double in his debut since Corey Lamkin had 16 points and 15 rebounds against Sul Ross State on Nov. 16, 2001.
He has had some struggles with foul trouble, but he came out with a fury in his first two conference games. At Central Arkansas, he posted a career-high 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting and blocked four shots while snaring eight rebounds. At Oral Roberts, he one-upped himself, posting his second career double-double with 15 points, 12 boards and two blocks in leading the Islanders to the upset victory.
Thomas was a McDonald's All-America nominee and was named City Player of the Year his senior season at Southeast HS.
THE GREAT DISTRIBUTOR
John Jordan is only a junior for the Islanders basketball team, but he's the most experienced player on the roster and one of the favorites for Southland Conference Player of the Year. The Houston native was named Preseason First Team All-Southland Conference by the league's coaches.
He leads the team and is 10th in the league with his 15.0 points per game, while his 4.6 assists are third. Since missing the Central Michigan game with an injury, he is averaging 15.1 points, 5.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds over the last five contests. He has had posted 20 points or more on four occasions, five assists or more eight times and at least five rebounds in 10 games this year.
But the Oral Roberts contest shows he may be at his best when not being the go-to scorer. He had just seven points, but dished out six assists and commanded the offense to the signature victory of the Willis Wilson era.
It's hard not to be impressed when looking at the numbers that the 5-foot-10 Jordan put up last season. Jordan was second in the league in assists (5.5 per game) and 12th in the league with 12.8 points per game. His 5.5 assists per game were 39th in Division I.
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. With 362 career assists, he is now second in school history and closing on Brian Evans' 493.
OFF THE SCHNEID
The Islanders were able to snap their eight-game losing streak with a strong performance on both ends of the court. A&M-Corpus Christi shot 50.9 percent from the floor - the fourth time this season that the Islanders have hit half their shots or better. At the same time, they held the run-and-gun Central Arkansas team to just 66 points on 39.0 percent shooting, including a 5-for-23 performance from beyond the arc.
Against Oral Roberts, the numbers were less dramatic, but the Islanders still put up a strong performance on both ends of the floor. A&M-Corpus Christi went 25-for-52 from the field (.481) while limiting ORU to 23-for-54 (.426).
Turnovers have been an up-and-down statistic as of late, and last week was no exception. The Islanders turned the ball over 19 times – the second highest total this season and the third time in the last six games that A&M-Corpus Christi has turned it over 18 times or more. But against ORU, the Islanders committed just nine turns, which also marked the third time in six games that A&M-Corpus Christi has had fewer than 10 turnovers.
CONNECTING FROM LONG DISTANCE
Another area that the Islanders had strong success in against ORU was in their outside shooting, as they knocked down five of their 10 triples in the victory. Brandon Pye was the principal architect, going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, the second player (Hameed Ali vs. UTSA) to go perfect from beyond the arc with at least three makes.
That is in stark contrast to the previous five games. The Islanders were just 14-for-60 (23.3 percent) from beyond the arc in the last five. Pye (3-for-13) was the leading shooter in that time frame. The Islanders saw their opponents hit an average of 4.4 more threes (13.2 points) in that span.
Among all the impressive stats that the Islanders racked up in the win over Central Arkansas, perhaps none was more telling than the fact that the team piled up 50 points in the paint. Of the 26 field goals the Islanders registered inside the arc, 25 of those came in the paint - the lone exception a long two from Brandon Pye.
Against Oral Roberts, it was another strong performance inside, with 32 points in the paint (14 from Rashawn Thomas). The offensive glass was a major source, with 16 second-chance points for the team.
The Islanders have had at least 20 points in the paint in each of the last 11 contests, but the previous season high had been 34 - against Cal State Northridge and Huston-Tillotson. The 5-foot-10 John Jordan leads the Islanders with 102 points in the paint on the year.
Heading into the Oral Roberts game, one of the Islanders' better producers had been sophomore Brandon Pye. The Mansfield, Texas, native - who is one of the quietest players on the team - had scored 30 points in his previous six games, including eight against Central Michigan and eight against Oklahoma.
But against ORU, he took it to a higher level. Pye went 5-for-7 from the field, knocking down all three of his shots from distance, for 13 points in the victory. At one point, he scored eight straight points in the contest, spearheading an 8-0 run by himself. He added two assists, three steals and two rebounds in 20 minutes of work.
Pye, who has started each of the last four games, had flashes of brilliance last season as well, including a career-high 17 at South Alabama. In his career, he has now made nine starts, and holds a 4.1 points per game average.
TURNS INTO POINTS
The Islanders forcing 21 turnovers from Central Arkansas would have been all for naught if it weren't for the fact that they turned them into a whopping 30 points, the most by the team this season. In fact, it was more than the previous three games combined. Nine different players posted points off turnovers in the UCA contest, led by John Jordan, who scored 11 points after Bears turns.
Against ORU, the Islanders forced the Golden Eagles into 11 turnovers, but were very efficient, by scoring 15 points off those possessions. The Islanders also posted six fast-break points in the ORU contest.