SOUTH ALABAMA (5-3) AT TEXAS A&M - CORPUS CHRISTI (1-5)
Thursday, Dec. 15 • 7 p.m. CT
American Bank Center (8,100) • Corpus Christi, Texas
RADIO: NewsRadio 1360 AM KKTX (Steven King)
LIVE STATS/VIDEO: GoIslanders.com
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team returns to the American Bank Center for its final non-conference home game on Thursday, Dec. 15, when it faces South Alabama at 7 p.m. The contest will feature the return of former Islanders and current Jaguars head coach Ronnie Arrow to the Coastal Bend, as the bench boss returns for the first time since leading the Islanders to the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
The Islanders are 1-5 and are coming off an 11-day gap between games. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi has lost three straight games, road affairs at Texas A&M and Houston and a home game against Texas Tech.
South Alabama is 5-3, but has played just three affairs away from home this season. A road win at LSU and a home victory over UAB are the big victories for the Jaguars this year, while USA has also topped Alabama A&M, Alcorn State and Mobile at home. They have fallen at Mississippi State and Florida State and vs. Southern Miss.
LAST TIME OUT
Jonathon Simmons had a career-high 22 points, including a 5-for-7 effort from behind the arc, as Houston upended the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi basketball team 87-66 on Dec. 3 at Hofheinz Pavilion. The Islanders are now off for the next 11 days over final exams.
After getting just four points from the freshman class against Texas Tech on Dec. 1, the Islanders saw the newcomers score 32 points in the loss. Hameed Ali had a career-best 15 points and Jake Kocher had a career-high nine. The Cougars placed four players in double figures to improve to 4-3 on the season.
SCOUTING THE JAGUARS
South Alabama is 5-3 after a decisive 102-62 win over Alcorn State on Sunday. The Jaguars have been impressive on the boards so far this year, averaging 40.5 per game and a plus-7.8 margin, the 21st best in the nation.
The Jaguars are led by Augustine Rubit, who paces the team with his 16.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and is the lone returning starter from a season ago. USA is without guard Xavier Roberson (10.5 ppg), who is out due to injury, but Antione Lundy is also in double figures with his 10.0 points per contest. Javier Carter has been a defensive force on the inside, as his 26 blocks lead the team.
NEW OPPONENT, FAMILIAR FACE
This will be the first meeting between the Islanders and Jaguars in the history of both programs. It will be the second meeting this season between Texas A&M - Corpus Christi and a Sun Belt opponent, the other a loss to Denver on Nov. 14.
But the Jaguars feature a very familiar face, as Ronnie Arrow, who built the Islanders program and led the team to its only NCAA Tournament appearance, now mans the sidelines for USA. Arrow posted a 134-91 record for the Islanders in his eight seasons for A&M-Corpus Christi. He led the 2006-07 team, which will be recognized during Thursday's game, to a 26-7 mark and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
After an 11-day rest, the Islanders are about to embark on their busiest trip of the year, as the next five games will take place in an eight-day span. After the South Alabama game, the Islanders hit the road for the Las Vegas Classic, which sees them travel to West Virginia, Missouri State and play two games in the City of Lights.
Over the upcoming trip, the Islanders will log over 5,000 air miles in addition to 165 round-trip miles from Pittsburgh International Airport to Morgantown, W.Va. After the trip, the Islanders will have just one game over the next 11 days.
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
In the game against Texas Tech, it was the upperclassmen who led the way. Returners Terence Jones (26) and Chris Hawkins-Mast (16) scored 42 of the Islanders' 54 points against the Red Raiders. Junior college transfer Jason Smith was next on the list with six points. In fact, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi got just four points from freshmen in the game, a mere 7.4 percent.
Houston was a far different story, as the newbies stepped up their game. Hameed Ali led the Islanders with 15 points and Jake Kocher had a career-best nine points in just 18 minutes of action. All told, the frosh combined for 36 of the 66 points the Islanders scored (54.5 percent). On the season, the Islander freshman class has averaged 19.2 points per contest, while its two junior college newcomers have added 12.2 points.
The Islanders point guard this season may be one of the smallest players in the Southland Conference, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in athletic ability. Houston native Johnathan Jordan stands just 5-foot-10, but his extreme athleticism and basketball IQ are the aspects of his makeup that are far more important to the Islanders.
He has been impressive leading the Islanders offense with his 24 assists and is second in the conferencewith 4.0 per game. His 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio is fifth in the league.
In the Houston game, he filled the stat sheet, scoring eight points and leading the team with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. He also had a career-best six dimes against Texas Tech.
At the end of the Denver game, he was a one-man wrecking crew. The freshman had two steals and eight points during a 10-0 run that drew the Islanders within three points with 26 seconds to play.
LIVING UP TO HIS NAME
Freshman Hameed Ali was the last scholarship player to sign with the Islanders and is the youngest player on the team. But perhaps the biggest challenge is living up to his name – Hameed means "praiseworthy" and Ali means "exalted one."
He trimmed his hair prior to the Utah State game, and he delivered the biggest shot of his career in the contest. Down one with 1:06 left in overtime, he took a Johnathan Jordan pass and drilled a triple from the right side to give the Islanders the win. He added six points in a row during the Islanders' 14-0 run at Texas A&M on Nov. 26, and grabbed three boards in the game.
But his finest individual effort came in the last contest for the Islanders. The Hayward, Calif., native netted a career-high 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a 3-for-3 performance at the line. He also drilled a pair of threes and had a steal in his 27 minutes of action.
The freshman, who didn't turn 18 until Aug. 26, is now averaging 5.0 points per game on the year. After a brutal 3-for-20 start from the field, he has gone 9-for-28 over the last four games and has delivered 6-of-7 shots from the line.