(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2014 11:37 AMOver the course of the next five games, McNeese State will learn if it has what it takes to be a contender.
The Cowboys (5-11, 3-1 Southland) begin a five-game homestand tonight against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. And with seven of the final nine games of the regular season coming on the road, taking care of business at Burton Coliseum and the Lake Charles Civic Center during the next three weeks is imperative.
“It’s the biggest stretch of this year,” said McNeese coach Dave Simmons. “All games mean something. But this means more because you’ve got them at home and you know what position this puts you in in the conference race.”
The Cowboys are one of four teams sitting at 3-1 in the league, a game behind Stephen F. Austin. But unless they are bailed out by a favorable appeal to the NCAA, the Lumberjacks are guaranteed a conference loss against newcomer Incarnate Word by forfeit — creating a virtual five-way tie for first.
The Islanders (6-11, 3-1) are one of the teams in that logjam. And they’ve already proven they can win on the road, knocking off Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla.
“Any time you can go to Oral Roberts and win at their place, that’s a sign that you’ve got a well-seasoned team,” Simmons said.
Point guard Johnathan Jordan is the Islanders’ engine, ranking second in the league with 4.8 assists per game.
“He is a true point,” Simmons said. “He can score when he needs to, but he’s like a general on the floor. He sets up the guys on the floor. It’s hard to press him. He has a lot of confidence in his abilities.”
Even in recent wins over New Orleans and Lamar, McNeese was noticeably beaten in rebounding. That will be a challenge facing the Cowboys again tonight with the Islanders boasting the conference’s No. 2 rebounder in 6-foot-10 forward Zane Knowles (7.5 rpg).
“They’re bigger than we are,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to play at a different level. They know they’ve got us coming back to their place. It’s a must-win for us, I think, if you want to win a conference championship.”