CORPUS CHRISTI – The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team used a stellar defensive effort to win its seventh consecutive game, 58-44, over Nicholls on Saturday at the American Bank Center. The Islanders (17-14, 14-4 Southland) ensured themselves a winning season overall and sewed up sole possession of second place in the league.
With the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the Islanders earned a double bye in the 2014 Southland Conference Basketball Tournament and will play their first game in the semifinals of the tourney on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The Islanders' seven-game win streak is the longest overall since the 2006-07 season (10 games) and matches the longest conference streak of all time, recorded during the first seven contests of that campaign.
Hameed Ali (12 points, four assists) led an efficient offensive attack for A&M-Corpus Christi, which went 24-for-37 (.649) from the field in the game. Joy Williamson added 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting, while Zane Knowles grabbed 11 boards and added seven points on a 3-for-3 performance from the field. John Jordan scored six points and added seven assists and two steals.
Dantrell Thomas led the way with 14 points for Nicholls, while Jeremy Smith added 10 points in the loss.
The 41 points allowed by A&M-Corpus Christi is the second fewest both on the season and in school history. The Islanders were lights out from the field in the second half, going 16-for-22 after hitting 12 of their first 13 shots from the floor.
Early on, Thomas did the bulk of the scoring, hitting two of his first three shots to give the visitors a 5-2 lead at the 16:59 mark. But the Islanders turned it up on the defensive end at that juncture, holding the Colonels without a field goal over the next 12:48 to put together a 14-1 run to take a 16-6 lead. During the stretch, the home squad's defense held Nicholls 0-for-15 from the field with five turnovers.
On the offensive end during that rally, six different players found the bottom of the net, with only Knowles registering multiple field goals. His second basket – a tip-in at the 8:06 mark – gave the Islanders their biggest lead of the half, 16-5. The Colonels broke the skein with a layup from Shane Rillieux that made it 16-8, then the teams traded three pointers headed into the break with A&M-Corpus Christi ahead 19-11. The 11 points allowed in the opening stanza matched the best performance of the season for the Islanders.
A&M-Corpus Christi came out of the gates blazing in the second half, using a 16-4 run to pull ahead by 20. The Islanders scored the first nine points after the break, four by Jordan and a triple by Ali among them. After trading buckets with the Colonels, the Islanders scored five more in a row, the final two on an alley-oop from Jordan to Williamson at 12:31.
Nicholls was able to cut into the lead with five straight points, but that was as close as they would get until the final minutes, as the home squad used an 8-1 run midway through the half to push the lead to as much as 22. The Colonels mounted a late rally to get the advantage to 14 on a Luke Doyle three with 1:39 left, but the teams traded points the rest of the way to result in a 58-44 final score.
A&M-Corpus Christi will now have to wait two rounds to see its opponent for Friday night. The Islanders are on the same side of the bracket as No. 3 seed Sam Houston State, No. 6 seed Oral Roberts and No. 7 seed McNeese State. The Cowboys and Golden Eagles will face off in the opening round on Wednesday, with the winner taking on the Bearkats on Thursday night.
Stephen F. Austin retained control of the top seed, while Northwestern State grabbed the No. 4 seed. Nicholls (No. 5) and Southeastern Louisiana (No. 8) will face off in Wednesday's opening-round matchup.
Tickets to the Southland Conference Tournament are available by calling 825-BALL (2255), via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All-session passes are available for just $75.
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