ISLANDERS (17-15) AT
THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team will take on Northern Colorado in the opening round of the College Insider Tournament on Wednesday, March 19, in Greeley, Colo. The Islanders (17-15) earned just the second bid to a postseason tournament in program history, joining the 2007 team, which garnered a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A&M-Corpus Christi finished second in the Southland with a 14-4 league record this year, but fell in the tournament semifinals to Sam Houston State, 69-63.
• Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has now logged 11 more wins this season than it did in 2012-13, tied for the third largest improvement in the country (two behind UW-Milwaukee, one behind Toledo).
• Junior John Jordan was named First Team All-Southland Conference, becoming the first Islander to pick up first team recognition since Kevin Palmer in 2010.
• Defense has been paramount to the team's success. The Islanders have allowed just one of the last eight teams to reach 70 points in regulation, and the opposition is shooting just .403 from the field in that stretch. In the team's first 13 wins, A&M-Corpus Christi had failed to score 70 points just one time, a 58-35 win over Lamar. In each of the last four wins, the Islanders have emerged victorious despite not cracking 70.
• Junior Hameed Ali has stepped up his game during the Islanders' last eight games, averaging 3.3 assists and 9.1 points. He has posted a 3.7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in that span. He has led the team in scoring in each of the last two games.
• The Islanders' seven-game win streak was the longest in the Willis Wilson era and the longest for A&M-Corpus Christi since a 10-game streak in the 2006-07 season. The seven-game winning streak in conference matched that team for the longest conference stretch in program history.
• Zane Knowles snared 17 rebounds against HBU on March 1, including 15 on the defensive end. It marked the fourth-most rebounds in a game in school history. The 15 defensive boards are a school record.
• The Islanders have also been efficient on the offensive end during the streak, shooting .527 from the field, including two of the best performances in school history. The Islanders shot .660 in the win over Central Arkansas, second best in Islanders lore, and nearly matched that by shooting .649 against Nicholls.
• Senior Joy Williamson has posted at least eight points in each of the last six games, and has done so by attacking the rim. Williamson is 20-for-26 with 36 of his 55 points coming in the paint in that stretch.
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 the on- and off-court leader for one of the most improved teams in the nation. The Houston native picked up First Team All-Southland Conference honors for his efforts this season, his first career conference honor.
He leads the team and is 10th in the league with his 14.8 points per game, while his 5.3 assists are second. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he has also pulled in 4.5 boards per game. He has posted 20 points or more on 10 occasions, five assists or more 19 times and at least five rebounds in 15 games this year.
He earned his first career weekly honor on Feb. 17, as he was named Southland Player of the Week. He started the week with a solid 10 points and eight assists with just two turnovers in a win over UCA. He had a tremendous finish against Oral Roberts, scoring or assisting on 25 of the Islanders' final 26 points, scoring 22 in total to go with nine 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 (9th, 380), assists (2nd, 460), minutes (4th, 3,055), free throws (2nd, 366) and steals (6th, 119). He became the ninth player in school history to join the 1,000-point club with a layup in the first half against McNeese and now has 1,026 career points.
As of late, his presence as a distributor has been exceptional. He has averaged 6.2 assists over the last 10 games and has a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio in that time. He had seven games in conference play with at least seven assists.
Jordan broke the school record with 138 assists as a freshman, then bested his own mark with 159 as a sophomore. He broke the record for the third time this year as a junior, posting 163 to this point in the year. He is now just 34 assists away from shattering Brian Evans' career record of 493, a mark that he is on pace to pass early next season.
ABOUT THE CIT
Founded in 2009, the College Insider Tournament is run by CollegeInsider.com, providing 32 teams from non-BCS conferences with an additional avenue to earn spots in the postseason. Since its inception, 23 conferences have been represented in the CIT, including Southland squads McNeese State (2012) and Oral Roberts (2013). The Islanders will be joined in this year's tournament by fellow Southland institution Sam Houston State.
All 31 games will be played on campus sites. In an effort to minimize travel and limit class time missed, the CIT does not determine future opponents until after the results of the previous round, ensuring geographic stability. Should the Islanders advance, they would not know their opponent until after Wednesday's game.
THE UNMASKED MAN
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. He returned to the court on Dec. 5 at Oklahoma, sporting a mask to protect his face. Thomas showed no ill effects from the headgear, posting 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.
The mask came off in February, and that unleashed an impressive stretch. 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 at ACU, becoming the second Islanders player (joining Josh Ervin, who did it twice in his Islanders career) to go 7-for-7 or better in a single game. He added a 7-for-9 performance vs. UCA, making him 21-for-26 from the field over the three games.
Thomas averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in conference play, while his 25 blocks in league play were best on the team. He has scored in double figures 12 times, including a double-double at Oral Roberts.
Thomas was a McDonald's All-America nominee and was named City Player of the Year his senior season at Southeast HS.
The Islanders' most physically notable player is, without question, senior Zane Knowles. The native of Nassau, Bahamas, stands 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds and has shown he can be a force inside for the Islanders this year.
He showed up in a big way in the season opener, scoring 12 points and snaring 18 rebounds for his first career double-double. The 18 rebounds matched the second-highest total in school history, and were the most for an Islander since Corey Lamkin grabbed 18 at Air Force on Jan. 21, 2004. He has seven double-doubles on the season.
His finest performance came at McNeese State, as he went 8-for-9 from the field, scoring 16 points and snaring nine rebounds. He had a quiet offensive day at Nicholls, but grabbed 10 boards in the win, then followed that up with his fifth double-double against Southeastern, posting 11 points and 11 boards.
After combining for just 10 points and one rebound at UIW and ACU, he started a tremendous stretch over the next four games. He posted 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added nine boards against UCA, then followed that up with his sixth double-double of the year, with 12 points and 11 rebounds against ORU. He made it back-to-back double-doubles at HBU, finishing with 10 and 11.
Then in the second game against the Huskies, he had one of the best two-point games in all of college basketball this season. Knowles snared 17 rebounds (fourth-most in Islanders lore), including 15 on the defensive end (most in school history) and added a career-high six blocks (fourth-most ever) against HBU. He was a crucial part of the Islanders holding the Huskies to just 29.6 percent from the floor. He had an off night with just three boards against McNeese, but bounced back with 11 caroms in the regular-season finale against Nicholls. He now has 242 on the year – third highest in school history.
Knowles is third in the conference with his team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game. He is second in the Southland in field goal percentage, shooting .589. In conference games, he has hit 68.8 percent of his shots from the field, the best mark in the Southland.
As a junior in 2012-13, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. He came to the Islanders after a year at Pearl River (Miss.) Community College and a season at Grambling.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has now logged 11 more wins this season (17) than it did in 2012-13 (6). That total is tied for the third biggest turnaround in the country, two behind UW-Milwaukee's plus-13 and one behind Toledo's plus-12.
The Islanders have also had quite a turnaround since the calendar flipped to 2013. A&M-Corpus Christi had more wins (11) in the first two months of 2014 than it did in all of 2013 (8).
The team recently wrapped a seven-game winning streak, the longest in the Willis Wilson era and the longest for A&M-Corpus Christi since a 10-game streak in the 2006-07 season. That year's Islanders squad was perfect from Dec. 29 through Jan. 31, a span of 34 days.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
A hallmark of the Islanders' success over the last eight games has been the defense they have played. A&M-Corpus Christi has allowed its opposition to reach 70 points in regulation just once in that period, coming at the hands of a Central Arkansas team that plays at a fast pace.
Opponents have shot just .403 from the field overall in the eight games, and beyond the arc, the opposition is connecting at just a .324 rate. As a result, the Islanders have held each of their last five opponents to 69 points or less, and have surrendered an average of 60.5 in the last eight contests.
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, and the highest percentage against a Division I program in school history. Against Nicholls, the team went 24-for-37 (.649) and missed five of its last nine shots down the stretch.
The Islanders have shot better than 50 percent from the field in five of the last nine games. The Islanders shot an impressive .503 from the field – the league's best mark in conference play – up from .430 in non-conference affairs.
With that has come an increase in scoring output. A&M-Corpus Christi topped 70 points in 12 of its 18 conference contests, up from just five in 11 non-conference matchups. The Islanders have registered five wins this season – at Lamar and each of the final four contests of the regular season – in which they have failed to reach 70 points.
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, though he did get to make the trip with the team, 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 several strong performances lately. He had an outstanding night against Central Arkansas, going 5-for-6 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line for 16 points. At HBU, he went 6-for-10 from the field, leading the team with 13 points. He has led the team in scoring in each of the last two games as well.
His calling card during his Islanders career has been offensive efficiency, where he has 127 assists to 67 turnovers in the last two years. He usually serves as the team's point guard when John Jordan is on the bench. He has 18 assists to just two turnovers in the last six games.
Another key for the team has been contributions from its bench. In league play, the Islanders bench outscored the opposition significantly, totaling 537 points (29.8/game) to the opponents' 320 (17.8).
The Islanders' second- and third-leading scorers came off the bench. Rashawn Thomas leads the way with 11.1 as a reserve, while Joy Williamson (8.7) is close behind. The Islanders outscored 15 of their 18 conference opponents in bench points.
The Islanders' strong performance in league play can be attributed to a more efficient offense that is seeing a total team effort. Since the start of 2014, the team has seen a total of 64 double-digit scoring efforts distributed over eight different players. (See chart below for more information.) Those eight all averaged over 6.3 points per game in the league.
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 combined for 25.9, but that was just 35.8 percent of the offense.
PRIDE AND JOY
After being one of just five upperclassmen on the roster a year ago, Joy Williamson enters his second year as an Islander as one of just three seniors on the squad in 2013-14. The Oklahoma City native finished third on the Islanders with 8.3 points per game last year.
In his career, coming off the bench Williamson is averaging 9.1 points per game (320 in 35 games). When he is in the starting lineup, Williamson has averaged just 6.8 points per contest (143 in 21 games). His 210 bench points on the season are second on the Islanders.
He had a strong start to his conference season. Against Central Arkansas, he went 5-for-8 from the field for 12 points, adding six rebounds and three assists. He was tremendously efficient against NW State, scoring 14 points in 14 minutes on 5-for-5 shooting. He added 10 points at McNeese State, then had a career-high 11 rebounds against Nicholls despite a tough night from the field. He finished in double figures with 11 points in the loss to UIW.
In the last six games he has done a tremendous job of attacking the rim for the team. He is averaging 9.2 points in that stretch, with at least eight points in every game. He has scored 36 of his 55 points in the paint over the last six, leading to a 20-for-26 (.769) mark from the field. The aggressiveness has also helped him get to the line more, where he has been the Islanders' best performer at the free-throw line, ranking 11th in the league at .773.
Even though he has come off the bench, he has been a constant presence in the lineup. Only John Jordan (33.9) and Hameed Ali (25.5) hav logged more time on the court in this season than Williamson (25.3).
The native of Oklahoma City played two years at Redlands Community College under current Islanders assistant coach Yaphett King.