Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 7:26 PM
Good news has been put on hold for McNeese State this week.
The Cowboys (8-10, 2-6 Southland) are coming off back-to-back road losses by playing their second consecutive game against a Southland Conference co-leader when Stephen F. Austin (16-2, 7-1) visits the Lake Charles Civic Center tonight.
They’ll have to do so without junior sixth man Ledrick Eackles, who Cowboys head coach Dave Simmons said left the team for “personal reasons” on Monday. Simmons said Eackles will remain enrolled and is scheduled to graduate in the spring.
Eackles came off the bench to lead McNeese with 26 points in its triple-overtime loss at Central Arkansas on Thursday night, but was kept on the bench by Simmons for the entirety of Saturday’s game at Oral Roberts.
Eackles became academically eligible at the end of the first semester and was fourth on the team with an average of 10.3 points per game.
“When Ledrick got eligible, minutes were coming from a starting position and from Adrian Fields,” Simmons said. “Adrian’s minutes will go up, and so will Jeremie Mitchell’s. And Shaun Johnson and Brandon Regis may have an opportunity to get some minutes there. Those kids work hard. You know where their heart is. You know they’ll give their best shot.”
Simmons said he isn’t worried about Eackles’ departure being a distraction to his former teammates.
“Kids today, they bounce back a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “We take it a lot harder as coaches. They are ready to move on to the next game. They think they can win.”
Of more pressing concern is the visiting Lumberjacks, who dismantled the Cowboys in the second half of a 71-43 win on Jan. 5. SFA had its 11-game winning streak snapped by Northwestern State on Saturday.
“It’ll be a big task for us, but I think we’re a better team than the first time we played them,” Simmons said. “First half, on the road against the best team, we’re down four points. You’re right there with them. And that’s the second game with a young team coming off Christmas break.”
The Lumberjacks have the top-rated scoring defense in the country, which makes for a less-than-ideal matchup in McNeese’s first game without Eackles’ shooting touch. He was easily McNeese’s top shooter in 3-point percentage (44.4) and free-throw percentage (77.1).
Perhaps the lone positive for the Cowboys heading in to tonight’s matchup is that it will be played at the Civic Center. McNeese knocked off an 18-3 Louisiana Tech team there in December, and beat SFA when the teams met downtown last season.
“The kids enjoy playing there,” Simmons said. “I think the fans enjoy it, and the coaches enjoy it, too. It’s a good venue to play in from time-to-time.”