Men's Basketball Hits Road to Battle McNeese
ISLANDERS (6-11, 3-1) AT
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team returns to the road with a contest at McNeese State on Thursday, Jan. 16, in Lake Charles. The Islanders, who are out to a 3-1 start in conference play, have never won a game in Burton Coliseum.
• John Jordan had his fifth and sixth 20-point games last week, and is averaging a team-best 18.5 points per game in league play.
• The 101 points scored by the Islanders were the most since scoring 107 against Nicholls on Feb. 8, 2007.
• Six different players finished in double figures against Northwestern State, the first time that has occurred since 2006.
• Jake Kocher notched his second game with 10-plus points in the last four when he had 12 against Stephen F. Austin.
• 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).
LAST YEAR'S RESULTS
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi split the season series with McNeese State, falling in a hard-fought contest in Lake Charles, 75-71, but knocking off the Cowboys on Homecoming in Corpus Christi, 61-58. In the Lake Charles contest, Will Nelson had 24 points and nine rebounds, while John Jordan posted 17 points and nine assists. The Islanders got the game within one possession three times in the final three minutes, but McNeese hit its free throws down the stretch (10-for-12) to ice the win.
In the game in Corpus Christi, three different players finished in double figures, with Joy Williamson and Hameed Ali leading the way with 15 points each. Zane Knowles added 10 points and seven rebounds, while John Jordan had eight points, six assists and six rebounds. The victory started the Islanders' run at the end of the season, where they won four of their final eight conference games after a 1-9 league start.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
The Islanders and Cowboys have had a very even all-time series, with A&M-Corpus Christi trailing 5-4. Five of the last six meetings have been decided by four points or less, with two of those games going to the Islanders. In Lake Charles, the Islanders have never won, possessing an 0-4 mark including last year's 75-71 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys.
LAST TIME OUT
In a battle for first place in the Southland Conference, Stephen F. Austin had a red-hot night from the field, shooting 50 percent from the field, to knock off the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team 80-70 on Saturday night. The Lumberjacks improved to 4-0 in the league, while the Islanders are now 3-1.
Thomas Walkup led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Jacks, who were victorious for the 12th straight contest. Deshaunt Walker (14), Tanner Clayton (13) and Nikola Gajic (11) also finished in double figures for SFA. Clayton was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, with most of his points coming on putbacks. The Lumberjacks outrebounded the Islanders 34-24 in the contest. Stephen F. Austin committed just seven turnovers in the contest, with five of those coming on Islanders steals.
John Jordan scored 24 points and added seven assists and two steals in a losing effort for A&M-Corpus Christi. Jake Kocher had a strong game as well, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 18 minutes of work.
With Rashawn Thomas' putback layup, the Islanders cracked the 100-point barrier against Northwestern State on Thursday. It marked the 15th time in school history that the team has finished in triple figures (ninth time against a Division I school). The last game with over 100 points for the Islanders came against Nicholls on Feb. 8, 2007 – a 107-91 win over the Colonels.
It was also far and away the most points scored in the Willis Wilson era, besting the previous high of 82, coming in an overtime loss to UTSA in 2012. The previous high in a regulation game for the Islanders was the 81 scored at Central Arkansas a week ago.
The Islanders have seen an improvement on the offensive end with the advent of conference play. A&M-Corpus Christi has topped 70 points in each of its four conference contests and is currently fourth in the league with an average of 80.8 in league play. The Islanders are 10th overall with 68.6 points per game on the year.
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 seventh in the league with his 16.0 points per game, while his 4.7 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 5.1 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on six occasions, five assists or more nine times and at least five rebounds in 11 games this year.
But the Oral Roberts contest showed 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 was somewhat similar in the win over Northwestern State, as he ran the offense efficiently and was the principal architect of the press break that saw the Islanders commit just 10 turnovers in 75 offensive possessions.
Jordan did get 22 points against the Demons, but did so mostly on his ability to get to the free-throw line, where he went 11-for-16. He added 24 points (10 at the line) against SFA. On the year, he has gotten to the line 10+ times on six occasions and has hit at least 10 at the line four times. He is 101-for-146 on free throws this year.
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 366 career assists, he is now second in school history and closing on Brian Evans' 493.
The Islanders' 3-1 start in league play can be attributed to a more efficient offense that is seeing a total team effort. In the four league games, eight different players have posted 10 points or more – Rashawn Thomas (3 games), John Jordan (3), Brandon Pye (2), Joy Williamson (2), Jake Kocher (2), Jeff Beverly (NW State), Hameed Ali (NW State) and Zane Knowles (ORU). Seven players are averaging at least 7.0 points per game on the season.
Against the Demons, A&M-Corpus Christi put six players in double figures, led by John Jordan's 22. It marked the first time that the team has had six players finish with 10 points or more since Nov. 16, 2006, the season opener of the team's Southland 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 has come out with a fury in his first four 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. He added 10 points, seven boards and two blocks against Northwestern State in just 18 minutes. He is third in the conference with 2.3 blocks per game in league play.
Thomas was a McDonald's All-America nominee and was named City Player of the Year his senior season at Southeast HS.
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.
The team followed that up with a 6-for-10 night against Northwestern State from beyond the arc. Interestingly, the Islanders tried just one three in the second half – a Hameed Ali triple that came as the shot clock ran down with 2:34 to play. The Islanders had an "off night" by going 5-for-12 from three against SFA.
In league play, the Islanders are shooting .429 from beyond the arc, a mark that is tops in the conference. Pye (6-for-7) is leading all Southland players with his .857 mark from downtown. A&M-Corpus Christi's opponents have shot just .303 from behind the arc.
These numbers are in stark contrast to the previous five games. The Islanders were just 14-for-60 (23.3 percent) from beyond the arc in the prior 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.
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.
He showed it was no fluke in the win over Northwestern State. The sophomore went 5-for-10 from the field, knocking down both of his three pointers, and added a 3-for-4 performance at the line to finish with a season-best 15 points. He added a career-high four assists in the victory.
Pye, who has started each of the last six games, had flashes of brilliance last season as well, including a career-high 17 at South Alabama.
HOLDING THE LEAD
An impressive attribute of the Islanders' three conference wins was the ability to grab a lead and maintain it. Over 120 minutes of league play, the Islanders held an edge on the scoreboard for a total of 92:30. Furthermore, the team led for every second after halftime.
A&M-Corpus Christi led for the final 30:45 of the Oral Roberts game, the last 30:09 of the Northwestern State victory and the final 28:45 against Central Arkansas. Holding a lead at halftime has been paramount to the Islanders' success on the year – the team has led at half in all six of its victories this season.
The contrast in the SFA game could not have been more stark. The Islanders led for a total of just 20 seconds - from 16:11 to 15:51 of the first half.