ISLANDERS (2-13, 1-4) VS. CENTRAL ARKANSAS (5-10, 0-5)
SATURDAY, JAN. 19 • 2:30 P.M.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS • AMERICAN BANK CENTER
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
Central Arkansas comes to the American Bank Center, as the Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team concludes its brief, two-game homestand with a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Bears. The Islanders fell to ORU on Thursday, while UCA lost at Sam Houston State.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, four months and 17 days heading into today's matchup.
• Will Nelson delivered his second double-double of the season against ORU, scoring 18 points to go with 10 rebounds. He also had a double-double against Stephen F. Austin.
• The Islanders have shot 70 percent or better from the line in six of their last seven games, and have a .709 free-throw percentage this year – second best in the Southland and an improvement of .109 from a season ago.
• Johnathan Jordan matched the school record with 11 assists against Lamar, combining it with 15 points for his second career double-double.
• A&M - Corpus Christi had 10 turnovers at Lamar, the fifth time this season with 10 or fewer turns.
• Hameed Ali has gone 8-for-12 over the last two games with 19 points. He has added four assists and four steals over that span.
• 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
The Islanders and Central Arkansas meet for the seventh time in the history of the two programs. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi has never lost to the Bears, posting identical 3-0 marks both in the Coastal Bend and in Conway. In each of the last two seasons, the Islanders won their season finale by defeating UCA.
In last year's contest between the teams, Chris Hawkins-Mast had a career-high 25 points in his final game in an Islanders uniform to lead A&M - Corpus Christi to a 67-65 win at the American Bank Center. Among returners, Johnathan Jordan had 10 points and Hameed Ali had nine for the Islanders. LaQuentin Miles and Jarvis Garner both return after finishing with 18 and 15, respectively, in last year's contest.
SCOUTING THE BEARS
Central Arkansas and Lamar are the only two remaining winless teams in conference play, with the Bears checking in at 0-5 in the Southland and 5-10 overall. UCA posted non-conference victories over three Division I foes, notching consecutive wins over Eastern Illinois, UT Martin and Southeast Missouri in December. Since knocking off Central Baptist on New Year's Eve, the Bears have lost their last five.
UCA has a quartet of strong offensive players helping them to average 77.3 points per game, second-highest in the league. However, the Bears have allowed a league-high 78.5 points per contest. Robert Crawford and LaQuentin Miles each average 15.2 points per game, while Jarvis Garner (14.7) and Jordan Harks (10.1) also are scoring in double figures. Garner leads the team with 6.7 rebounds, but the Bears have four players averaging 4.6 or better.
SNAPPING THE STRING
The Islanders got off the schneid with a 62-56 win at Lamar on Saturday, snapping a 12-game losing streak that dated back to the season opener. A&M - Corpus Christi jumped out to a 31-20 halftime lead after shooting 13-for-25 in the first half, delivering 11 of their 16 shots inside the arc. Lamar made a pair of strong runs at the Islanders, but A&M - Corpus Christi held them off at the free throw line.
AS THE ISLANDERS TURN
Despite the Islanders' struggles in the win column and with offensive fouls, the team has been surprisingly efficient when it comes to turnovers. A&M - Corpus Christi is averaging 12.1 per game – fewer than their opponents' 13.1 – and ranked 50th in the nation as of Jan. 17. The Islanders posted just seven turnovers at McNeese State and 10 at Lamar, their fourth and fifth games this season with 10 turns or fewer.
Earlier in the year, the Islanders took 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.
The Oklahoma contest was an obvious exception, though. The Islanders turned the ball over 18 times, and many of the turns were unforced. It marked just the third game this season that the Islanders had more than 15 turnovers (19 against TLU, 16 at Toledo).
Nonetheless, it is a marked improvement from the ball control for the team from last season. A&M - Corpus Christi averaged 15.2 turnovers per game and ranked 291st in the country out of 338 teams. The Islanders had 14 games with 15 turnovers or more last year, and just three with 10 or fewer.
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.
Jordan was outstanding as a distributor a season ago, but his growth as a scorer is notable. After averaging 6.5 points last year, the point guard has contributed 12.1 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 84 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 70 free throws, including a 12-for-13 performance at the line against McNeese. His 12 free throws are tied for fourth-most in a game in Islanders history.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 4.9 assists per game this year, he sits third in the Southland. Last week at Lamar, he posted 11 assists, matching the school record, and had his second career double-double. He has 73 assists this season and 211 for his career, placing him fifth all-time.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having grabbed five-plus rebounds eight times this year. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he is second in the Southland at 35.3 minutes per game. He has been on the court for 37 minutes or more eight times this year.
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.
EARNING THEIR STRIPES
The Islanders' struggles at the free-throw line were well documented last year. A&M - Corpus Christi shot just 360-for-600 (.600) at the line a year ago.
But this year, the team has improved significantly, hitting at a .709 clip that has them second in the Southland. The Islanders have four regulars shooting .710 or better, with Zane Knowles (10-for-18, .556) the only player with more than six attempts to sit below that threshhold. Hameed Ali leads the way at .826, while Johnathan Jordan is second at .745. At McNeese State, the Islanders went 22-for-27, led by a 12-for-13 performance by Jordan.
In 2011-12, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi ranked 331st in the nation in free-throw shooting. As of Jan. 17, the Islanders sat 112th in the nation this year. They have shot .700 or better in six of the last seven games.
WHERE THERE'S A WILL...
No newcomer on the Islanders roster came in with higher expectations than junior Will Nelson. The skilled wing was expected to play a major role in the team's offensive output, and he has shown on several occasions that he has the ability to fulfill those expectations.
The McNeese State contest was the most recent example, as the Louisiana native thrived in his return to his home state, knocking down four threes en route to 24 points and nine rebounds. It marked Nelson's third game this season with 20 points.
He posted the first double-double for the Islanders this season with 24 points and 14 rebounds against Stephen F. Austin, going 9-for-17 from the field. He added his second double-double on Thursday, when he had 18 points and 10 rebounds. His career high in points is 28, when he added eight rebounds against Houston.
The junior college transfer is averaging 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Islanders, including an average of 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in conference contests. He has struggled a bit with his accuracy, though, shooting .367 overall and .279 from beyond the arc.
Nelson is attending his fifth different school in the last five years. He took last season off of basketball to focus on academics at Dodge City Community College. Prior to that, he played a year each at Hutchinson CC and Baton Rouge CC after graduating from Port Allen (La.) High School.
HE IS AN ENGLISHMAN...
In a freshman class that is punctuated by a trio of skilled guards – Brandon Pye, Jelani Currie and Cole Martinez – the first-year player who has shined brightest has been a post from Leighton Buzzard, England, Dale Francis. The Canarias Basketball Academy product has been one of the most consistent performers for the Islanders as of late.
In the last five games, Francis has averaged 24.8 minutes, including a career-high 30 at McNeese State. A strong defender, Francis emerged on the offensive end in Lake Charles, posting six points on 3-of-4 shooting and snaring five rebounds, three offensive.