ISLANDERS (14-14, 11-4) VS.
THE OPENING TIP
Playing for just the second time in a span of 14 days, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team takes on Houston Baptist for the second straight Saturday in a crucial Southland matchup at the American Bank Center. The contest will represent the Islanders' annual Homecoming game.
• Junior John Jordan moved into ninth on the all-time scoring list with his 22 points against Oral Roberts. He is just 23 points away from joining the 1,000-point club.
• With the Feb. 13 win over UCA, the Islanders clinched their first postseason berth since the 2009-10 season. A&M-Corpus Christi can clinch a first-round bye in the Southland Tournament with a win today.
• During conference season, the Islanders have posted 52 double-digit scoring efforts across eight players, including five players in double figures against Central Arkansas.
• Bench play has been a significant strength for A&M-Corpus Christi, averaging 30.1 points from the reserves, while the opposition averages just 17.0.
• Sophomore Brandon Pye is leading the Southland with his .710 3-point percentage in conference action, while his .534 overall mark is also best in the league and second nationally.
LAST TIME OUT
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team fought off a hard effort from Houston Baptist to take a 66-61 victory on Saturday, improving to .500 (14-14, 11-4 Southland) for the first time since November with the win. Zane Knowles had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
Hameed Ali led the Islanders with 13 points, while Brandon Pye chipped in 11. Four others scored at least seven points, with John Jordan scoring eight points with four assists and six rebounds. HBU (5-22, 2-13) had another strong effort at home, placing four players in double figures.
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, 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 vs. Sul Ross State on Nov. 16, 2001.
He has been on a roll the last five games. It started with his finest outing of his young career at UIW, going 7-for-10 from the floor for a career-best 21 points. He followed that with 20 points on 7-for-7 shooting, becoming the second Islanders player (Josh Ervin the other) to go 7-for-7 or better in a single game. He added a 7-for-9 performance on Thursday, making him 21-for-26 from the field over the three games. In league play, he is averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.
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 eighth in the league with his 15.2 points per game, while his 5.2 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 4.7 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on nine occasions, five assists or more 16 times and at least five rebounds in 14 games this year.
He earned his first career weekly honor last Monday, as he was named Southland Player of the Week. He started the week with a solid 10 points and eight assists with just two turnovers in a win over UCA. He had a tremendous finish against Oral Roberts, scoring or assisting on 25 of the Islanders' final 26 points, scoring 22 in total to go with nine assists.
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 this season, needing to average 7.7 points in the remaining three regular-season games.
As of late, his presence as a distributor has been exceptional. He has averaged 6.9 assists over the last seven games and has a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in that time.
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. His 141 dimes this year are second in school history, giving him the top three assist totals in Islanders lore. He is closing on Brian Evans' career record of 493.
COUNTDOWN TO KATY
The victory against UCA officially clinched a spot in the 2014 Southland Conference Basketball Tournament. It will mark the Islanders' first trip to the postseason in Willis Wilson's tenure and the first trip to Katy since the 2009-10 campaign. The Islanders advanced to the semifinals of the event in 2008-09 and 2009-10 in addition to winning the Tournament in 2006-07.
Since the Islanders' last trip to the Southland Conference Tournament, the league has changed the format slightly. The third- and fourth-place teams each receive a first-round bye, while the top two squads receive a two-round bye all the way to the semifinals. The Islanders can clinch a bye with a win tonight, and are still in the running for a number two seed.
The tournament is set up for women's games to be played in the morning and afternoon, with men's games in the evening, at 5 and 7:30 p.m. at the Merrell Center. Tickets in the Islanders section can be purchased by calling 825-BALL (2255).
The Islanders' most physically notable player is, without question, senior Zane Knowles. The native of Nassau, Bahamas, stands 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds and has shown he can be a force inside for the Islanders this year.
He showed up in a big way in the season opener, scoring 12 points and snaring 18 rebounds for his first career double-double. The 18 rebounds matched the second-highest total in school history, and were the most for an Islander since Corey Lamkin grabbed 18 at Air Force on Jan. 21, 2004. He has posted six double-doubles on the season.
His finest performance came at McNeese State, as he went 8-for-9 from the field, scoring 16 points and snaring nine rebounds. He had a quiet offensive day at Nicholls, but grabbed 10 boards in the win, then followed that up with his fifth double-double against Southeastern, posting 11 points and 11 boards.
After combining for just 10 points and one rebound in two games the prior week, he was tremendous a week ago. He posted 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added nine boards against UCA, then followed that up with his sixth double-double of the year, with 12 points and 11 rebounds against ORU. He made it back-to-back double-doubles with a workmanlike effort at HBU, finishing with 10 and 11.
Knowles is fourth in the conference with his team-leading 7.5 rebounds per game. He is second in the Southland in field goal percentage, shooting .595. In conference games, he has hit 70 percent of his shots from the field, the best mark in the Southland.
As a junior in 2012-13, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. He came to the Islanders after a year at Pearl River (Miss.) Community College and a season at Grambling.
In the victory over UCA, the Islanders went 33-for-50 from the field to shoot .660 in the contest. It marked the second-highest field-goal percentage in school history, and the best since going 43-for-64 (.672) against Huston-Tillotson on Feb. 22, 2006. It was the highest field-goal percentage against a Division I program in school history.
The Islanders have shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the last four games, and in five of the last six. The Islanders are shooting .506 from the field – the league's best mark in conference play – up from .430 in non-conference affairs.
With that has come an increase in scoring output. A&M-Corpus Christi has topped 70 points in 12 of its 15 conference contests, up from just five in 11 non-conference matchups. The Islanders have registered two wins this season – at Lamar and at HBU – in which they have failed to reach 70 points.
BACK ON TRACK
It was a tough offseason for Hameed Ali. The junior suffered a hip injury, had surgery and was unable to play basketball from April to October. He was unable to play during the team's foreign tour in Italy, and the staff even considered redshirting him this season.
But the junior who started 29 games a season ago was not to be kept off the court. Ali had two decent performances the first two games of the season, as he got his feel for the game back, then exploded in the Holiday Inn Downtown Marina Tournament. He was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 14.0 points in the three-game affair. A week later, he scored a career-high 21, going 8-for-12 from the field, at UTSA.
He has had several strong performances lately. He had an outstanding night against Central Arkansas, going 5-for-6 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line for 16 points. Against HBU, he went 6-for-10 from the field, leading the team with 13 points.
His calling card during his Islanders career has been offensive efficiency, where he has 117 assists to 66 turnovers in the last two years. He usually serves as the team's point guard when John Jordan is on the bench. Ali has entered the Islanders' career top 10 with 164 assists.
Another key for the team has been the contributions from its bench. In league play, A&M-Corpus Christi has seen its bench outscore the opposition in every game but one, totaling 451 points (30.1 per game) to the opponents' 255 (17.0).
The Islanders' second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers have all come off the bench. Rashawn Thomas leads the way with 11.7 as a reserve, while Joy Williamson (8.4) and Jake Kocher (7.8) are just behind. Brandon Pye (7.9) only recently broke into the top four to represent the starting lineup. The Islanders have outscored 12 of their 15 conference opponents in bench points.
The Islanders' 10-4 start in league play can be attributed to a more efficient offense that is seeing a total team effort. In the 14 league games, the team has seen a total of 52 double-digit scoring efforts distributed over eight different players. (See chart below for more information.) Those eight are all averaging over 6.0 points per game.
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 26.9, but that is just 36.3 percent of the offense.
Among all the impressive stats that the Islanders racked up in the conference-opening win at UCA, perhaps none was more telling than the fact that the team piled up 50 points in the paint. Northwestern State provided another stellar inside performance, with nine players recording points in the paint for a total of 48. Of the 77 points scored at McNeese, 42 came in the paint. They added 42 in the paint at UIW and 40 against UCA.
The Islanders have had at least 20 points in the paint in each of the last 23 contests and are averaging 35.7 in league play.
OVER AND OVERTIME
The overtime game against Oral Roberts was the first OT game of the year for the Islanders, and the first since the 2011-12 season, when they fell 86-82 to UTSA. It marked the Islanders' first OT victory since a 58-55 win vs. Utah State on Nov. 22, 2011. All-time, the Islanders are 13-6 in overtime.