ISLANDERS (6-21, 5-11) AT NORTHWESTERN STATE (19-8, 13-3)
THURSDAY, MARCH 7 • 8 P.M.
NATCHITOCHES, LA. • PRATHER COLISEUM
RADIO: NEWSRADIO 1360 KKTX (YANNIS KOUTROUPIS)
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's basketball team hits the road for its final two games of the 2012-13 season, beginning with a contest at Northwestern State on Thursday night. The Islanders have won back-to-back games and are 4-2 in their last six league contests.
• The Islanders have one of the youngest teams in Division I, with an average age of 20 years, six months, 3 days heading into today's matchup. There are no seniors on the team.
• Will Nelson was named Southland Conference Player of the Week on Monday after scoring 23 points in each of the Islanders' victories. He went 14-for-17 from the floor.
• Johnathan Jordan set a new school record in assists, as he now has 147 on the season. The sophomore broke his own record, set last season, of 138 dimes.
• The Islanders bench has been on fire as of late, averaging 32.3 points per game over the last seven. The bench has gone 93-for-195 (.477) from the field over that stretch.
• Sophomore Nate Maxey has tied the school record with his 53 blocks on the season, matching the total by Chris Daniels in the 2006-07 campaign.
• 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 will take on Northwestern State for the ninth time in the Islanders era on Thursday, with the two teams tied in the series. The Islanders are 2-1 against the Demons in Natchitoches and the Demons are 3-1 in the Coastal Bend. The Islanders also tallied a victory over Northwestern State in the Southland Conference Championship Game in 2007.
In the first meeting this year, just over two weeks ago, the Islanders fell behind big early, then saw their comeback effort come up short in an 82-71 loss to the Demons. Northwestern State led by as much as 22, but the Islanders trimmed it to single digits in the closing minutes. The Islanders placed four men in double figures, including career highs from Nate Maxey and Joy Williamson. For a full recap and box score, turn to page 2 of the notes.
SCOUTING THE DEMONS
Northwestern State is still in the hunt for the Southland Conference regular-season title, but it would need to win both games this weekend and have Stephen F. Austin lose both times. Likewise, with a win in either contest would give NSU at least second place and a first-round bye in the Southland Conference Tournament. The only way Northwestern State would finish third would be with two losses and an Oral Roberts win over Central Arkansas.
The Demons still sit atop the nation with their 82.9 points per game. DeQuan Hicks, who missed the Stephen F. Austin game, still leads the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game. James Hulbin (12.5), Shamir Davis (11.9) and Jalan West (10.6) all average in double figures for Northwestern State, with Hulbin's 6.0 rebounds leading the way.
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 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 13.0 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 176 points in the paint and has hit a team-best 116 free throws, including a 12-for-13 performance at the line against McNeese.
Perhaps more impressive is Jordan's all-around game. His distribution is what he is most known for, and with 5.4 assists per game this year, he sits second in the Southland. He recently broke his own record for assists in a season, and now has 147 on the year. In league play, he has 97 assists to 43 turnovers. He is already fourth on the Islanders' career assist list, and with 285 career dimes, is more than halfway to breaking Brian Evans' career record of 493.
Jordan is also strong on the glass, having topped double-digit rebounds twice this season. He snared 11 caroms against SHSU for his third double-double of the year. He averages 4.8 rebounds per contest. He shows high on the stamina scale as well, where he leads the Southland at 36.4 minutes per game. In conference play, he is averaging 37.2 minutes despite not playing an overtime game. He is only 69 minutes from breaking Kevin Palmer's Islanders record.
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.
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.
Nelson has embraced the team role as of late, and his performance this past week resulted in him winning Southland Conference Player of the Week honors for the first time. Against Southeastern La., he had 23 points and nine boards, going 5-for-7 from the field and 12-for-14 at the line. He followed that up with a 9-for-10 performance against Nicholls, scoring another 23 and adding 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the year.
Nelson 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 against Oral Roberts, when he had 18 points and 10 rebounds. He then posted double-doubles in both games last month at Nicholls and Southeastern La. His career high in points is 28, when he added eight rebounds against Houston.
The junior college transfer is averaging 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Islanders, both of which top the team. During league play, he has posted an average of 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds.
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.
THE OOP TO HIS ALLEY
The most physically noticeable player on the Islanders is 6-foot-11 Nate Maxey. The big man has one of the longest wingspans in the country with his 7-foot-10 reach, and he has already developed a reputation as one of the top shot blockers in the league.
He backed it up when he set a school record with nine swats against Houston on Nov. 25. He added six two weeks ago at Oral Roberts. For the season, he has totaled 53 blocks, matching Chris Daniels' record total from the 2006-07 Southland Championship season. He became the third player in school history (Daniels, Demond Watt) to top 100 blocks in his career, needing just 55 career games to get to 101 blocks.
The other play he has gained notoriety for has been when he is on the receiving end of an alley-oop, usually from fellow sophomore Johnathan Jordan. Maxey has finished off dozens of alley-oops this season. Maxey leads the Islanders with 41 dunks on the season, including five against Northwestern State.
In the game against the Demons, Maxey went 7-for-10 for a career-high 15 points. In addition to his five slams, the San Diego native added a pair of nice hook shots for his career day. He added six rebounds for a massive impact in his 18 minutes. He is 56-for-80 (.700) from the field on the season.
The Islanders have recently had strong performances off their bench. It had 32 points against Lamar, 26 against McNeese and then 34 at UCA. Then it erupted for 43 against Northwestern State, a season high. With 33 against Fullerton, 38 against Southeastern and 34 against Nicholls, the bench has posted at least 33 in four straight games.
The Islanders bench has averaged 31.6 points per game over the last eight. The bench has gone 93-for-195 (.477) from the field over that stretch. The Islanders' leading scorer has come off the bench each of the last four and in six of the last eight.
The Islanders' only true "big man" came to Corpus Christi along a path that took him from the Bahamas to Louisiana to Mississippi and finally to the Island University. Zane Knowles stands 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds to make him the most imposing big man on the team.
He battled through a handful of injuries at the beginning of conference play, and has recently upped his game. He had nine points and eight boards against Lamar, then followed that up with 10 points and seven caroms in the McNeese State game.
Last week, he had a pair of strong games in helping the Islanders to two victories. He played just 16 minutes against Southeastern La., but went 6-for-7 for 12 points, scoring the Islanders' first six. He added a 4-for-6 performance for nine points in just 11 minutes against Nicholls.
Knowles' finest game of the season came at Iowa, when he went 6-for-10 from the field for a career-high 12 points. He also notched a career-best 33 minutes of action and snared eight rebounds in a losing effort.
A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Knowles played sparingly as a freshman at Grambling before electing to move on to Pearl River CC, where he was a First Team Mississippi All-Star.