ISLANDERS (9-11, 6-1) VS.
THE OPENING TIP
Southland newcomer New Orleans comes to the American Bank Center on Saturday, as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi looks to extend its strong start against the Privateers on Stripes Court. The Islanders are 6-1 in league play for the first time since 2008-09.
• During conference season, the Islanders have posted 27 double-digit scoring efforts across eight players.
• John Jordan came one assist short of a double-double last time out, with 14 points and nine dimes. He is averaging 16.1 points in league play.
• The Islanders have been beasts in the paint in the conference, averaging 38.0 points in the paint with three games over 40.
• Jake Kocher has been at the center of each of the last three wins for the Islanders, averaging 11.7 points and 4.3 rebounds.
• The Islanders posted a 6-1 conference start for the first time since 2008-09, when A&M-Corpus Christi opened 8-1.
• Freshman Rashawn Thomas has been a beast in conference play, averaging 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds.
• The Islanders took part in a 10-day, four-game tour of Italy in August, a trip that allowed them 10 extra days of practice prior to the tour.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
The Islanders and Privateers meet for the first time as fellow conference members, but the two squads met prior to the Islanders joining the Southland Conference. UNO won both meetings, topping the Islanders at War Memorial Coliseum, 82-68, then knocking off A&M-Corpus Christi 77-63 in the Crescent City.
LAST TIME OUT
JaMichael Hawkins' three-pointer at the buzzer came up short, as the Islanders played stellar second-half defense to knock off Southeastern Louisiana 74-71. The Islanders came through with a critical 13-1 run midway through the second half.
A&M-Corpus Christi placed five players in double figures, led by Jake Kocher's 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Zane Knowles added a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while John Jordan came up an assist short of a double-double with 14 points and nine assists.
COACHES VS. CANCER
The Islanders staff will be wearing sneakers and suits as part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Coaches vs. Cancer initiative. Suits and Sneakers is a national Coaches vs. Cancer event that is designed to raise awareness about the fight against cancer and the American Cancer Society by encouraging member coaches and their coaching staffs to wear sneakers with their suits at games held that weekend to show support for the Coaches vs. Cancer program.
With a 6-1 conference record, the Islanders are off to their best start in league play since starting 8-1 in the 2008-09 season. In the championship season of 2006-07, the Islanders started 11-1 en route to a 14-2 league mark.
On the road, the Islanders hold a 4-0 mark in conference affairs this year. It is the first time A&M-Corpus Christi has begun 4-0 on the road since 2006-07. That team started 6-0 and went 7-1 on the season.
THE GREAT DISTRIBUTOR
John Jordan is only a junior for the Islanders basketball team, but he's the most experienced player on the roster and one of the favorites for Southland Conference Player of the Year. The Houston native was named Preseason First Team All-Southland Conference by the league's coaches.
He leads the team and is sixth in the league with his 15.5 points per game, while his 4.5 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 4.9 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on six occasions, five assists or more 10 times and at least five rebounds in 12 games this year.
But the Oral Roberts contest showed he may be at his best when not being the go-to scorer. He had just seven points, but dished out six assists and commanded the offense to the signature victory of the Willis Wilson era. It was somewhat similar in the win over Northwestern State, as he ran the offense efficiently and was the principal architect of the press break that saw the Islanders commit just 10 turnovers in 75 offensive possessions.
Jordan has done much of his scoring by getting to the free-throw line. On the year, he has gotten to the stripe 10+ times on eight occasions and has hit at least 10 at the line four times. He is 124-for-174 on free throws this year, both of those numbers leading the Southland. His 124 makes are already sixth in school history and he is on pace to break Michael Hicks' school mark of 197.
He is also on pace to become the ninth player in school history to score 1,000 points in his career later this season. He needs to average 11.5 points the rest of the way to pass that milestone
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. With 385 career assists, he is second in school history and closing on Brian Evans' 493.
GUESS WHO'S BACK
In addition to the other newcomers, the Islanders have a welcome face back in the fold that was missing last season. Redshirt sophomore Jake Kocher, who sat out 2012-13 after double labrum surgery, was back in the starting lineup in the season opener.
His return to the court was a triumphant one, as Kocher poured in 10 points to go along with a career-high six rebounds and four steals against HTU. In the UTSA contest, he played a career-high 25 minutes, totaling 11 points, four rebounds and four steals. He went through a prolonged cold stretch in December, though.
The start of conference play saw Kocher bust out of his slump, going 4-for-7 from the floor for 14 points at UCA, nabbing eight rebounds and posting a career-high five steals. It marked the first five-steal game for the Islanders since Garland Judkins had five swipes against Central Arkansas in 2011.
Over the last five conference affairs, he has finished in double figures three times and is averaging 11.8 points over the last five. He has seen a knack for steals, fast-break points and three-point plays as of late. At Nicholls he had 13 points – 10 in the paint – including a pair of three-point plays after notching steals. He scored a career-high 15 against Southeastern, earning two three-point play opportunities and scoring all six of the Islanders' fast-break points. He is fifth in the league with 1.7 steals per game in Southland play.
In 2011-12, Kocher did most of his damage down the stretch, including a career-high 15 points in the season's penultimate game at UT Arlington. He is the city of Austin's all-time leading scorer from his days at St. Michael's Academy.
The Islanders have seen an improvement on the offensive end with the advent of conference play. A&M-Corpus Christi has topped 70 points in each of its six conference contests and is currently fifth in the league with an average of 77.7 in league play. The Islanders are ninth overall with 69.4 points per game on the year.
Part of the offensive improvement can be attributed to remarkable efficiency. The Islanders are shooting .504 from the field in conference play, 15 ticks better than Oral Roberts, which is in second place. Likewise, the Islanders have turned the ball over 10 times or fewer in each of the last six contests after turning the ball over 19 times in the conference opener.
A JAW-DROPPING START
Freshman Rashawn Thomas was one of the most electrifying players for the Islanders over the summer. During the team's trip to Italy, he had a double-double in each of the team's four games.
But the fates turned another direction for Thomas. The Oklahoma City native fractured his jaw on Nov. 7, the day before the Islanders' first game of the year against Huston-Tillotson. He missed the first nine games of the season.
Any doubts about the 6-foot-7 forward being tentative were instantly alleviated. Thomas missed his first two shots, but converted his first career points at the 8:25 mark. By the time the dust had settled in the game, the freshman had 12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He became the first Islander freshman with a double-double in his debut since Corey Lamkin had 16 points and 15 rebounds against Sul Ross State on Nov. 16, 2001.
In league play, Thomas is averaging 11.1 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He is 33-for-54 from the field for a .611 percentage. He has also cut down on his fouls significantly, as he has committed just 18 fouls in conference play (2.6 per game).
Thomas was a McDonald's All-America nominee and was named City Player of the Year his senior season at Southeast HS.
HOLDING THE LEAD
An impressive attribute of the Islanders' six conference wins has been the ability to grab a lead and maintain it. Over 240 minutes of league play in those contests, the Islanders have held an edge on the scoreboard for a total of 157:11. Furthermore, the team has led for 99:37 of the 120 minutes after halftime.
A&M-Corpus Christi led for the final 30:45 of the Oral Roberts game, the last 30:09 of the Northwestern State victory and the final 28:45 against Central Arkansas. In the win over McNeese State, it was even more extreme, as the Islanders took the lead on John Jordan's free throws just 13 seconds in and never gave it back. Holding a lead at halftime has been paramount to the Islanders' success on the year – the win over Southeastern on Thursday was the first time this year that A&M-Corpus Christi has won after trailing at half.
The contrast in the SFA game could not have been more stark. The Islanders led for a total of just 20 seconds - from 16:11 to 15:51 of the first half.
The Islanders' 6-1 start in league play can be attributed to a more efficient offense that is seeing a total team effort. In the seven league games, the team has seen a total of 27 double-digit scoring efforts distributed over eight different players. (See chart below for more information.)
John Jordan is the only player with six games in double figures, while Rashawn Thomas has five 10-point contests. Jake Kocher has hit 10 points on four occasions, while Joy Williamson, Brandon Pye and Zane Knowles have done so three times. Hameed Ali has two games in double figures, while Jeff Beverly has one. Six players are averaging at least 7.6 points per game on the season.
Against Northwestern State, A&M-Corpus Christi put six players in double figures, led by John Jordan's 22. It marked the first time that the team has had six players finish with 10 points or more since Nov. 16, 2006, the season opener of the team's Southland Championship season.
Contrast that to last year in league play, when John Jordan and Will Nelson combined to average 28.4 points – 46.6 percent of the Islanders' offensive production. This year, Jordan and Rashawn Thomas are combining for 27.2, but that is just 35.0 percent of the offense.