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McNeese State men's basketball coach Les Miles. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State men's basketball coach Les Miles. (American Press Archives)

Cowboys host Louisiana College tonight in opener

Last Modified: Thursday, November 08, 2012 7:50 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

McNeese State will begin this season the same way as it ended last — shorthanded.

The good news is unlike last year, that status will eventually change for the Cowboys.

Three players — sophomore post Craig McFerrin and transfers Ledrick Eackles and Keelan Garrett — will miss the first seven games of the season, but should be able to play starting with Dec. 12’s game against Louisiana Tech.

Another, freshman forward Austin Lewis, should be in the lineup considerably sooner but will miss tonight’s season opener against Louisiana College.

That leaves the returning cast of Cowboys in a familiar place, though having nine healthy bodies is certainly an improvement over the six that played last year’s conference championship game against Lamar.

“We’re probably going to play everybody,” said coach Dave Simmons. “It’s going to be a committee. Our identity has changed. We don’t have a true identity, but we’re going to have to develop one. Starting (tonight) we’ll get a good picture of where we’re going as a team and what’s our best suit of play. We’re going to make mistakes, but I keep preaching that we have to play through them.”

McNeese will rely on a young cast as it bridges the gap to conference play in January, with sophomores Desharick Guidry and Kevin Hardy expected to see significant time as well as freshmen Lewis and Jordan Wells.

“The freshmen have to come out and play early,” said senior point guard Dontae Cannon. “And the guys like Jeremie (Mitchell), AD (Adrian Fields) and Kevin have to pick up from last year when we didn’t have a lot of people.”

Unquestionably, the biggest shoes to be filled by this year’s Cowboys are those of honorable mention all-American Patrick Richard, who is in training camp with the NBA Developmental League’s Iowa Energy.

“When you get a special kid in your program that has been the heart and soul the last three years, it’s hard,” Simmons said. “These guys have learned something from Pat. He left a great legacy in character in what he does.”

In addition to trying to figure out how to make up for Richard’s production — 17.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, as well as often defending the opponent’s best offensive player — the Cowboys must replace his leadership.

That role will be filled by seniors Cannon and Mitchell.

“He led us by example,” Mitchell said of Richard. “He played through injuries and still worked hard. To be vocal, you’ve got to work hard every day and set the right example for everybody — and then you can be vocal. That’s how me and Dontae run the team. You’ve got to show them so they can respect you.”

In an undersized lineup — no player stands taller than the 6-foot-8 Lewis — Cannon and Mitchell will be powering a run-and-gun attack.

“We’ve got a lot of good guards this year,” Cannon said. “Everybody can handle the ball and shoot well. We have some people that can cause mismatches. Being so small, we have to push the tempo.”

Despite Richard’s absence, McNeese’s two seniors believe the Cowboys can jell and make a run at picking up the one extra win they need to reach the NCAA tournament.

“We have a lot of hunger,” Mitchell said. “It pushed us all summer to get individually better to get over that hump of losing in the championship game two times in a row. It increased our hunger big-time.”

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