McNeese State head men's basketball coach Dave Simmons. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, January 06, 2014 12:29 PM
What a difference the schedule can make.
It wasn’t so much the turning of the calendar that seems to have changed the fortunes of the McNeese State men’s basketball team, but rather the page turning on the schedule.
After spending the season’s first seven weeks as America’s guest, the Cowboys have not only finally returned home, but also found folks their own size to pick on.
For the second straight game the Cowboys took out their frustrations on a fellow Southland Conference team. Just as rare was they did it at home, though it is hard to say the friends and family members who gathered inside Burton Saturday gave them much of a home-court boost.
Hard to get too excited when more seats in the building are covered by a tarp than behinds.
Still, the 82-69 victory over New Orleans did give the Cowboys their first winning streak of the season, even if it is just two games.
“It is good to get a win anywhere,” said center Craig McFerrin. “This has been tough to get through but we have stuck together. We knew we were a mid-major program playing some top teams in the country. We had to stay focused.
“For us it is about the conference. Our motto is ‘2014 take over.’”
Most importantly, the Cowboys are 2-0 in the conference and look much different than the last time they were home, back on Nov. 12.
A lot can change in almost two months.
The Cowboys have gotten back inside force Desharick Guidry, transfer sharpshooter Matt Moss is now eligible and the team looks to have found some offensive rhythm, at times.
That’s hard to do when you have nine consecutive games away from home against mostly superior talent during a 45-day stretch.
“We had our down times,” said McFerrin. “We worked hard not to get too far down. We knew this would turn around.”
If college basketball had homecomings, McNeese might have been everybody’s guest as the opponent. Some of that was for money. The Cowboys picked up some good checks along their travels, but it did mean only one home game until the new year.
“It was hard to be away for so long,” McFerrin said.
All along head coach Dave Simmons told us to wait until the first of the year, wait until the Cowboys started to play in league.
Well, the waiting seems to have been worth it. McNeese’s first two games back have shown more than a few impressive flashes.
Yet there are still signs of concern.
On Saturday, UNO recorded 20 points on 18 offensive rebounds. That has to be fixed and fixed quick.
Then there were times McNeese’s play was less than — how do we put this politely? — smart. The Cowboys suffered through a couple periods of brain freeze that kept the visitors hanging around.
Somehow UNO had a chance to cut the lead to just eight with a free throw with about 3 minutes remaining. The Privateers missed.
And Ledrick Eackles is still Ledrick Eackles. The senior guard can help McNeese get a big lead with exciting play and hot shooting, or he can drain the energy out of the offense with wild shots and attempted bounce passes behind his back that ricochet off defenders’ legs and become turnovers.
He did finish with 22 points and five assists, but a few wild shots as well. He is, for lack of a better term, must-watch action.
You half wonder if McNeese players don’t realize this about Eackles and that is why they wear warm-up shirts that read “It’s a love, hate thing,” before the game.
Or maybe they are just talking about those who made their schedule. It did leave them 2-10 to start, but they got trips to places like San Diego, which isn’t a bad place to spend a holiday break.
According to McFerrin, the saying means: “Some people love us, some people hate us.”
Most people around Lake Charles just haven’t seen them.
But now it is all about the league, which is what the Cowboys have been talking about since the early days of practice.
They knew with games at Michigan State, San Diego State, Texas A&M and LSU that the early part of this campaign was going to be rough. It has been.
Now they just want to see what it is like to play guys their own size.
So far it’s been pretty good.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org