ORAL ROBERTS (13-12, 7-5) AT
THE OPENING TIP
With a berth to the 2014 Southland Conference Tournament already in hand, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team looks to charge toward the top of the conference standings, as it plays host to Oral Roberts on Saturday. The game will be televised by Comcast Sports-Houston.
• With Thursday's win over UCA, the Islanders clinched their first postseason berth since the 2009-10 season.
• Rashawn Thomas has gone 21-for-26 from the field the last three games. At ACU, he joined Josh Ervin as the only two players in school history to go 7-for-7 from the field or better in a game.
• During conference season, the Islanders have posted 47 double-digit scoring efforts across eight players, including five players in double figures against Central Arkansas.
• Junior John Jordan has averaged 7.0 assists per game in the last seven contests and has a 49-to-16 (3.1) assist-to-turnover ratio.
• The Islanders have been beasts in the paint in the conference, averaging 36.9 points in the paint with four games over 40.
• Bench play has also been a significant strength for A&M-Corpus Christi, averaging 31.9 points from the reserves, while the opposition averages just 17.6. The Islanders' second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers in conference play are all yet to start a game.
THE ALL-TIME SERIES
The Islanders are 2-2 all-time against Oral Roberts, tallying a win in the 2007 Preseason NIT, but falling in both contests last year as part of Southland Conference play. In last year's contest in Tulsa, the Islanders were within striking distance when an untimely technical foul helped the Golden Eagles triumph. The Islanders delivered their marquee win of this year with a 71-64 triumph over the Golden Eagles. This will be ORU's last year in the league, as it will join the Summit League in 2014-15.
LAST TIME OUT
Five players scored in double figures, as the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team clinched a spot in the Southland Conference tournament with an 84-73 victory over Central Arkansas on Thursday night. The Islanders remain in third place in the league, and will return to Katy for the first time since 2009-10.
Hameed Ali led the way with 16 points, while Zane Knowles (14 points, nine rebounds) and Rashawn Thomas (14 points, five rebounds) both had strong games in the post. Brandon Pye added 13 points, while John Jordan scored 10 points and added eight assists and three steals.
A JAW-DROPPING START
Freshman Rashawn Thomas was one of the most electrifying players for the Islanders over the summer, 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 at Oklahoma, but converted his first career points at the 8:25 mark. By the time the dust had settled, 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 vs. Sul Ross State on Nov. 16, 2001.
He has been on a roll the last three games. It started with his finest outing of his young career at UIW, going 7-for-10 from the floor for a career-best 21 points. He followed that with 20 points on 7-for-7 shooting, becoming the second Islanders player (Josh Ervin the other) to go 7-for-7 or better in a single game. He added a 7-for-9 performance on Thursday, making him 21-for-26 from the field the last three. In league play, he is averaging 12.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Thomas was a McDonald's All-America nominee and was named City Player of the Year his senior season at Southeast HS.
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 front-runners 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 eighth in the league with his 15.2 points per game, while his 5.1 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 4.7 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on eight occasions, five assists or more 15 times and at least five rebounds in 13 games this year.
With those numbers, he has represented the best chance to post the first triple-double in program history. But he has never come as close as he did on Saturday at ACU, going for 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Had it not been for a slow start, he might have turned the trick – over the game's final 23:45, he scored all of his 20 points with six rebounds and eight assists.
Jordan's place in Islanders lore is also reaching new heights. With his 20 points against New Orleans, he moved into the school's top 10 in points. He is also already in the Islanders career top-10 in rebounds, assists, minutes and steals. He is on pace to become the ninth player in school history to score 1,000 points in his career this season, needing to average 10.6 points in the remaining five regular-season games.
As of late, his presence as a distributor has been exceptional. He has averaged 7.0 assists over the last seven games and has a 3.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in that time.
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. His 128 dimes this year are fifth in school history, and he needs just five to have the top three totals in Islanders lore. He is closing on Brian Evans' career record of 493.
COUNTDOWN TO KATY
Thursday night's victory officially clinched a spot in the 2014 Southland Conference Basketball Tournament. It will mark the Islanders' first trip to the postseason in Willis Wilson's tenure and the first trip to Katy since the 2009-10 campaign. The Islanders advanced to the semifinals of the event in 2008-09 and 2009-10 in addition to winning the Tournament in 2006-07.
In the victory over UCA, the Islanders went 33-for-50 from the field to shoot .660 in the contest. It marked the second-highest field-goal percentage in school history, and the best since going 43-for-64 (.672) against Huston-Tillotson on Feb. 22, 2006. It was the highest field-goal percentage against a Division I program in school history.
BACK ON TRACK
It was a tough offseason for Hameed Ali. The junior suffered a hip injury, had surgery and was unable to play basketball from April to October. He was unable to play during the team's foreign tour in Italy, and the staff even considered redshirting him this season.
But the junior who started 29 games a season ago was not to be kept off the court. Ali had two decent performances the first two games of the season, as he got his feel for the game back, then exploded in the Holiday Inn Downtown Marina Tournament. He was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 14.0 points in the three-game affair. A week later, he scored a career-high 21, going 8-for-12 from the field, at UTSA.
He has had his ups and downs in conference play, posting three double-digit scoring efforts, including 11 at Incarnate Word on Thursday. But he followed that with a tough outing at Abilene Christian, going 0-for-4 from the field and finishing scoreless for the first time since the Nicholls contests. He came back with an outstanding night on Thursday against Central Arkansas, going 5-for-6 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line for 16 points. He added three assists.
His calling card during his Islanders career has been offensive efficiency, where he has 112 assists to 66 turnovers in the last two years. He usually serves as the team's point guard when John Jordan is on the bench. Ali is the second most experienced Islanders player with 2,054 career minutes and 64 career starts. He has entered the Islanders' career top 10 with 159 assists.
THE SILENT ASSASSIN
Heading into the Oral Roberts game, one of the Islanders' better producers had been sophomore Brandon Pye. The Mansfield, Texas, native - who is one of the quietest players on the team - had scored 30 points in his previous six games, including eight against Central Michigan and eight against Oklahoma.
But at ORU, he took it to a higher level. Pye went 5-for-7 from the field, knocking down all three of his shots from distance, for 13 points in the victory. At one point, he scored eight straight points in the contest, spearheading an 8-0 run by himself. He added two assists, three steals and two rebounds in 20 minutes of work.
He showed it was no fluke in the win over Northwestern State. The sophomore went 5-for-10 from the field, knocking down both of his three pointers, and added a 3-for-4 performance at the line to finish with a season-best 15 points. In the win over UCA, he hit all three of his shots from beyond the arc, posting 13 points in just 24 minutes of action.
He has also been able to hit shots with the game on the line. He came up huge at Nicholls, as his triple with less than two minutes to play was the dagger in sealing the Islanders victory. Then, last time out, he drilled a trey from the corner with less than five seconds left to lift the team to a two-point win over Abilene Christian.
His deadly accuracy from downtown has been simply stunning in conference play. In 11 league contests, he is 19-for-27 from beyond the arc, for an incredible .704 percentage from downtown. Next best in league play is UNO's James Harrison at .520. Pye is also the only player in the league shooting over 50 percent, clocking in at .519. That percentage is currently fourth-best nationally.
Another key for the team has been the contributions from its bench. In league play, A&M-Corpus Christi has seen its bench outscore the opposition in every game but one, totaling 415 points (31.9 per game) to the opponents' 229 (17.6).
The Islanders' second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers have all come off the bench. Rashawn Thomas leads the way with 12.2 as a reserve, while Joy Williamson (8.5) and Jake Kocher (8.2) are just behind. The Islanders have outscored 10 of their 12 conference opponents in bench points.