ISLANDERS (1-6) AT TEXAS A&M (7-2)
TUESDAY, DEC. 18 • 6 P.M.
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS • REED ARENA
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
TV: FOX COLLEGE SPORTS ATLANTIC - CHANNEL FINDER
THE OPENING TIP
The Islanders men's basketball team wraps up a string of four straight road games when it travels to College Station for a matchup with Texas A&M on Tuesday, Dec. 18. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is playing its sixth game away from the American Bank Center in its last seven, and is seeking to stop a six-game losing stretch.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, three months and 15 days heading into today's matchup.
• Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is playing its fourth straight game away from the American Bank Center and the sixth in their last seven. The Islanders are 0-3 in the current road swing.
• Freshman Brandon Pye came out of nowhere to score a career-high 17 points at South Alabama on 6-of-10 shooting (5-of-7 beyond the arc).
• The Islanders have 21 steals over their last two games, led by five each from Joy Williamson and Brandon Pye.
• Sophomore Hameed Ali leads the conference in both steals (2.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6) this season. Ali was 14th nationally entering the week in assist-to-turnover ratio and 49th in steals.
• Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is ineligible for the postseason because of poor results in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate. No Islander who has played under Wilson had anything to do with the subpar score.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi is playing against the flagship member of the A&M system for the fourth time, as the Islanders hold a 1-2 all-time record against the Aggies. This marks the third consecutive season that the two teams have faced off, with A&M winning both contests. The Aggies were triumphant in Corpus Christi (86-65) in 2010 and in College Station (56-43) last season.
The Islanders' lone win in the series with the Aggies came on Dec. 13, 2003. That day, the Islanders posted one of the biggest wins in school history, winning in College Station, 82-80. Brian Evans and Travis Bailey provided the 1-2 punch for the visitors in that contest, as Evans netted 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and Bailey added 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including a 4-for-7 effort from beyond the three-point arc. The Islanders survived a late surge by the home Aggies, as Texas A&M trimmed a 13-point deficit to just two points before time ran out in the comeback.
EASY AS PYE
Entering the season, the coaching staff was high on the outside shooting ability of the Islanders freshman guards. But early on, the youngsters struggled in their distance shooting this season.
Mansfield, Texas, native Brandon Pye went 3-for-8 in the opener, but hit a skid after, going 1-for-12 from beyond the arc over the next five games. But at South Alabama, the youngster came alive, shooting 5-of-7 from downtown and 6-of-10 overall for a career-high 17 points. He played 32 minutes in the contest, and added career highs in steals (four), assists (two) and rebounds (five) without a turnover.
He's only a sophomore, but Houston native Johnathan Jordan has been thrust into the role of leader on the young Islanders squad. Jordan led the Southland in assists per game in 2011-12, and despite his newbie status was also among the leaders in minutes per game. With 26 starts as a freshman, he entered the year with nearly as many Division I starts as the rest of his teammates combined (34).
Jordan was outstanding as a distributor a season ago, but his growth as a scorer is notable. After averaging 6.5 points a season ago, the point guard has contributed a team-leading 13.7 points per game, largely on his ability to get to the rim and the free-throw line. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he leads the team with 44 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 38 free throws.
After struggling to an 0-for-7 offensive performance against Houston, he has had 13-plus points in each of the last three games. At Toledo, he went 5-for-9 from the field and added a 12-for-14 performance at the line for a career-high 22 points. He added 13 points at Iowa and followed that with 17 at South Alabama.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 4.6 assists per game this year, he sits third in the Southland. He is also strong on the glass, having grabbed seven-plus rebounds three times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale, with his 34.1 minutes per game third in the league.
The diminutive guard is one of the most athletic Islanders, as evidenced by his two slam-dunk contest championships, thanks to his 48-inch running vertical leap. His 138 assists last season set a school record.
COMING ON STRONG
Junior Zane Knowles has elevated his game recently for the Islanders. The transfer from Pearl River CC entered the year as the team's most physical big man, and he has used that size to his advantage as of late. Knowles increased his point total in each of his first six games, and has steadily improved upon his rebounding numbers as well.
He was limited by foul trouble at South Alabama (though he did have five rebounds and three blocks), but against a physical Iowa team, Knowles rose to the occasion. He battled to eight rebounds (six on the offensive glass) and added a career-high 12 points as well. He went 6-for-10 from the field in 33 minutes of action.
A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Knowles played sparingly as a freshman at Grambling before electing to move on to Pearl River, where he was a First Team Mississippi All-Star.
THICK AS THIEVES
The Islanders have seen a steady increase in their takeaways recently. After averaging 5.7 steals a year ago, A&M - Corpus Christi has notched 7.9 per contest so far this year, including 21 over the last two games. The Islanders are currently sixth in the Southland in steals per game.
The Islanders have two of the top three in the conference in steals per game, with Hameed Ali (2.3) first and Joy Williamson (2.1) third. They are both also among the national leaders, with Ali ranking 49th in the nation heading into this week and Williamson 74th.
PRIDE AND JOY
Among the Islanders, there is no personality quite like that of the appropriately-named Joy Williamson. The junior transfer's ebullient and energetic personality is matched only by his intensity and pace on the basketball court.
Williamson has developed into an excellent sixth man for the Islanders, as he leads the team with 61 bench points on the season. He made his first career start at South Alabama on Sunday.
Against Houston, the guard's offensive ability shined brightly, going 6-for-9 from the field for a career-best 13 points. But he filled the stat sheet in all other aspects of his game as well – Williamson snared seven rebounds, dished out four assists to no turnovers and registered three steals, all in a career-high 33 minutes.
The Oklahoma City native has finished in double figures in five consecutive games, finishing between 10 and 14 points in each contest. He had a career-high 14 at Iowa, but his consistency has been his calling card on offense. He has hit at least one three-pointer in each of the last six games, and has gone five straight with at least three field goals. He has at least one steal in every game this year, and is third in the Southland in the category.
Williamson played two seasons at Redlands Community College, where he was coached by current Islanders assistant Yaphett King. The Oklahoma City native scored 18.7 points and grabbed 8.2 rebounds at Redlands after a standout high school career at Putnam City North High School.
AS THE WORLD TURNS
The quality of the Islanders' play has been in concert with the number of turnovers they have committed as of late. Over the last three games, A&M - Corpus Christi has finished with double-digit turnovers each game, including 16 at Toledo and 15 each at South Alabama and Iowa.
The previous two games saw the Islanders take care of the ball like no other time in program history. After posting six turnovers at Utah State – the second lowest total in school lore – the Islanders matched the school record with only five turns against Houston. With an average of 12.4 turnovers per game entering the week, the Islanders were 67th in the nation in the category. A year ago, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi was 291st in the nation in turnovers out of 338 teams ranked.
One of the primary reasons for the improvement in turnovers has been the youngest member of last year's freshman class. Hameed Ali showed flashes of being a strong player for the Islanders in 2011-12, hitting game-winning shots against Utah State and Sam Houston State in addition to having the ball in his hands with the chance at a win against South Alabama.
But Ali, who turned 19 in August, has shown significant growth in his maturity, particularly as a vocal leader for the Islanders. Formerly one of the most shy members of the team, Ali has become a constant voice in practice – whether he is on the court or on the sidelines.
Ali posted a career-best seven assists at Utah State, and followed that up with six more against Houston. In the Toledo game, where the Islanders struggled from the field, he still was able to post three assists. But far more impressive were his turnover numbers – 0, 1 and 1, respectively – in those three games.
The sophomore is currently seventh in the league in assists per game, and his 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio is far and away tops in the Southland and 14th nationally. His 2.3 steals per game also lead the conference (49th nationally).