ISLANDERS (10-14, 7-4) AT
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team wraps up a four-game road swing with its first meeting against Abilene Christian in school history. The Islanders sit in fourth place in the Southland Conference, but have lost three of their last four.
• Freshman Rashawn Thomas had a career night his last time out, scoring 21 points at Incarnate Word to go along with six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
• Junior John Jordan has entered the school's top 10 in points (917, 10th), rebounds (344, 9th), assists (408, 2nd) and steals (109, 9th). He is averaging 15.3 points and 5.3 assists in league play.
• The Islanders held Lamar to just 35 points on Saturday, the fewest points against the team in school history. It is the first time in Islanders lore that the team has not surrendered a three-pointer.
• During conference season, the Islanders have posted 40 double-digit scoring efforts across eight players.
• Redshirt sophomore Jake Kocher has 25 steals in conference season, including six against New Orleans. The six swipes were a career high and the second-most in a game in school history.
• Junior Hameed Ali has upped his scoring as of late, averaging 8.2 points over the last five, including 11 at Incarnate Word.
LAST TIME OUT
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi staged a frenetic late rally to cut a 16-point deficit to just two, but Incarnate Word converted its final six free throws to hold on for an 82-78 victory on Thursday night. The hot-shooting Cardinals went 31-for-51 from the floor (.608) in the win.
Rashawn Thomas scored a career-high 21 points to go with six rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Islanders. Thomas led four players in double figures, with John Jordan (13 points, six assists), Hameed Ali (11 points, four assists) and Joy Williamson (11 points, five rebounds) all topping 10 points as well.
A JAW-DROPPING START
Freshman Rashawn Thomas was one of the most electrifying players for the Islanders over the summer, 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 at Oklahoma, 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 had his finest outing of his young career at UIW, going 7-for-10 from the floor for a career-best 21 points to go along with six rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks over the last three games. In league play, Thomas is averaging 11.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He is 50-for-84 from the field for a .595 percentage. He is yet to post a start in his collegiate career.
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 front-runners 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 ninth in the league with his 15.2 points per game, while his 4.8 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 4.6 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on seven occasions, five assists or more 13 times and at least five rebounds in 12 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.
Jordan's place in Islanders lore is also reaching new heights. With his 20 points against New Orleans, he moved into the school's top 10 in points. He is also already in the Islanders career top-10 in rebounds, assists, minutes and steals. He is on pace to become the ninth player in school history to score 1,000 points in his career later this season. He needs to average 11.9 points the rest of the way to pass that milestone.
Jordan has done much of his scoring by getting to the free-throw line. On the year, he has gotten to the stripe 10+ times on 10 occasions and has hit at least 10 at the line five times. He is 145-for-208 on free throws this year, both of those numbers leading the Southland. His 145 makes are already fifth in school history and his 132 against Division I teams are 23rd nationally.
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. With 408 career assists, he is second in school history and closing on Brian Evans' 493.
The Islanders have prided themselves on their defense all season, but the performance against Lamar goes down as one of the finest in school history. The Cardinals scored 35 points, which marked the fewest by the team in the shot-clock era. Lamar scored 11 points before halftime, shooting 4-for-28, which marked the second fewest in LU history and the lowest by the Cardinals since the 1958 season.
The 35 points allowed were the fewest surrendered by an Islanders team in program history, and in fact marked the first time A&M-Corpus Christi has ever held an opponent under 40. The previous low was 42 points against Texas State on Nov. 18, 2007. However, the 11 points allowed in the first half were not a new record for the Islanders. A&M-Corpus Christi surrendered just seven points before halftime to Savannah State on Dec. 29, 2005, but the Tigers went on to score 38 in the second half. In that opening stanza, SSU went 2-for-23, while Lamar logged a 4-for-28 half on Saturday night.
The Islanders' 7-4 start in league play can be attributed to a more efficient offense that is seeing a total team effort. In the 11 league games, the team has seen a total of 40 double-digit scoring efforts distributed over eight different players. (See chart on page 4 for more information.)
John Jordan is the only player with nine games in double figures, while Rashawn Thomas has seven. Jake Kocher (6), Zane Knowles (4) and Joy Williamson (4) have all hit 10 points on more than four occasions, while Brandon Pye, Hameed Ali and Jeff Beverly have done so three times. Six players are averaging at least 7.1 points per game on the season overall, and all eight are scoring at least 6.3 points per game in conference action.
Against Northwestern State, 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.
Contrast that to last year in league play, when John Jordan and Will Nelson combined to average 28.4 points – 46.6 percent of the Islanders' offensive production. This year, Jordan and Rashawn Thomas are combining for 26.6, but that is just 35.8 percent of the offense.
GUESS WHO'S BACK
In addition to the other newcomers, the Islanders have a welcome face back in the fold that was missing last season. Redshirt sophomore Jake Kocher, who sat out 2012-13 after double hip labrum surgery, was back in the lineup in the season opener.
His return to the court was a triumphant one, as Kocher poured in 10 points to go along with a career-high six rebounds and four steals against HTU. In the UTSA contest, he played 25 minutes, totaling 11 points, four rebounds and four steals. He went through a prolonged cold stretch in December, though.
The start of conference play saw Kocher bust out of his slump, going 4-for-7 from the floor for 14 points at UCA, nabbing eight rebounds and posting a career-high five steals. It marked the first five-steal game for the Islanders since Garland Judkins had five swipes against Central Arkansas in 2011.
Over the last six conference affairs, he has finished in double figures four times and is averaging 9.7 points to go with 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 steals.
He has seen a knack for steals, fast-break points and three-point plays as of late. At Nicholls he had 13 points – 10 in the paint – including a pair of three-point plays after notching steals. He scored a career-high 15 against Southeastern, earning two three-point play opportunities and scoring all six of the Islanders' fast-break points. And against New Orleans he had a career-best six steals – one off Kevin Palmer's school record. He is third in the league with 2.3 steals per game in Southland play.
In 2011-12, Kocher did most of his damage down the stretch, including a career-high 15 points in the season's penultimate game at UT Arlington. He is the city of Austin's all-time leading scorer from his days at St. Michael's Academy.
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 nine of its 11 conference contests and is currently seventh in the league with an average of 74.2 in league play. The Islanders are ninth overall with 69.2 points per game on the year. Those numbers were significantly harmed by the 58 points Saturday at Lamar.
Part of the offensive improvement can be attributed to efficiency. The Islanders are shooting .484 from the field in conference play, up from .430 in non-conference affairs.
With a 7-4 conference record, the Islanders are off to their best start in league play since starting 7-4 in the 2009-10 season. In the championship season of 2006-07, the Islanders started 11-1 en route to a 14-2 league mark.
On the road, the Islanders lost their first contest in conference affairs at Sam Houston State. It is the first time A&M-Corpus Christi has begun 5-2 on the road since 2006-07. That team started 6-0 away from Corpus Christi and went 7-1 on the season.