Basketball teams moving home, hurricane repairs complete

Published 10:29 am Friday, January 14, 2022

After hearing all the talk, and getting a chance to practice in their own gym, McNeese State players will play a game in their home.

The reopening of the Legacy Center will come Saturday. The $40-plus million on-campus facility, which opened in 2018 when it was known as the Health and Human Performance Complex, was heavily damaged by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.

More importantly, it’s game day. The opening of Southland Conference play for both the men’s and women’s teams. In a brief 14-game league campaign, that means even more.

“It is important for us coaches to have our kids understand the importance of the game,” said McNeese men’s coach John Aiken. “It is going to be emotional but we can’t get caught up in all of that. We have to be ready to play.”

The Cowboys are not alone in this situation. While their game is set for a 4 p.m. tip, the Cowgirls will open at 1 p.m.

Both teams will be tipping off against Houston Baptist clubs and know winning at home is a must if you want to make noise in the SLC.

“We are excited to be in our home but we have to take care of it,” said women’s head coach Lynn Kennedy. “We have to understand it is about the basketball game and not everything else.”

Both teams are coming off easy tune-up wins against non-Division I NCAA teams that were played this week in the Ralph O. Ward Recreation Complex.

The Cowgirls stomped Ecclesia College 108-39 on Sunday while the Cowboys rolled over Arlington Baptist 120-44 on Wednesday.

“This was good for us to get to get confidence and get ready for the league to start,” said Cowboys swingman Kellon Taylor. “We really shared the ball and played a good team game. We are going to need to do that Saturday.”

With so much turnover the past two seasons, few players have played a game in the Legacy Center. The lone member of the men’s squad on the roster from 2020 is Collin Warren who sat out that season.

Divine Tanks is the Cowgirl with the most time on the court during games inside the on-campus arena.

But none of that matters without the victory.

“The most important thing is to win the basketball game,” Aiken said. “There will be a lot going on, but Houston Baptist is going to come over here and try to make it their day.

“This place also puts a target on our backs and everybody in the league will play better in here as well.”

That’s because the arena will be the future home of the SLC postseason tournaments after this season.

“You want to establish this as a home-court advantage right away,” Kennedy said. “Also, you want to put on a good show. We want to make it exciting so that people will want to come back and watch again.”

The Cowgirls (5-8) will look to use their fast style and 3-point shooting to set the tone against HBU (4-7).

Last week’s women’s Southland Tip-Off Event was canceled due to COVID-19, so there was no preview to the league race.

With a balanced attack — only Desirae Hansen who scores in double figures at 10.2 points per game — the Cowgirls lead the SLC in scoring at just over 71 points a game.

They also lead the league in offensive rebounding and are second in rebounds a game.

“We are a young team but I like where we are,” Kennedy said. “We are getting better each time out.”

The same can be said for the Cowboys (6-11) who have won two of their last four. Improved shooting from Zach Scott and the overall play of Christian Schumate have helped the turnaround.

HBU (4-9) has yet to beat a Division I team. McNeese has two wins over Division I teams, so it will be a test for both.

“You don’t want to start the league off with a home loss, so this is important that we control the emotions of the day and play our game,” Aiken said. “We are also getting a chance to play some like opponents and it is time to stack seam wins together.”