Jim Gazzolo column: Beating Catamounts paramount to success

Published 9:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

The last time McNeese State’s men’s basketball team started a season with four consecutive victories was 51 years ago.

It took Will Wade seven months to pull off the trick.

The Cowboys blasted their third consecutive non-Division I opponent Tuesday night, thumping LeTourneau 81-49. It was McNeese’s third win in five days.

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Making history was not lost on this group of Cowboys even if few of them have been here more than a few months themselves.

“Any time you get to make history it is great,” said McNeese guard Omar Cooper. “It’s not every day you can do something that hasn’t been done in 50 years.

“We knew what was on the line.”

The most interesting thing about these McNeese players is how they know their role within the program.

True, they are hired guns, basketball mercenaries to be sure. Few if any of the transfers ever heard of McNeese State before Wade and his crew came calling. Yet they seem to understand what they mean to the program.

“We want to help turn this program around for the fans and the town,” guard Shahada Wells said earlier in the year.

Early returns have these Cowboys doing just that. Their season-opening victory at Virginia Commonwealth 10 days ago sent a message as to just how much times have changed. They proved that even more during their three home games. The Cowboys won those three by a combined margin of 137 points.

Even more impressive is how they did it. Tuesday they used a 16-0 run to open up what was a close game for about 12 minutes. Monday it was a whopping 41-0 spurt that turned the trick.

“This team has spurtability,” Wade said. “We have a lot of guys who can score.”

Ten of 11 Cowboys scored in Tuesday’s rout of the Yellow Jackets. Even more impressive, there has been a different leading scorer in each of the four wins.

Christian Shumate has recorded three double-doubles after his 11-point, 10-rebound showing Tuesday. That’s 24 in his 71 games with the Cowboys since transferring from Tulsa.

No question that the early stages of the season have been a lot of fun for McNeese fans who have suffered through some long, dry seasons for sure. But we are about to find out a lot more about this team starting this weekend.

McNeese travels to Western Carolina to open a stretch of games in which they will play five consecutive fellow mid-major programs, four of them away from home. Western Carolina is also off to a fast start at 3-0, including a road victory at Notre Dame last weekend. Last year the Catamounts beat McNeese 88-69 in Lake Charles.

By playing like-level competition, we are about to find out a lot more about the Cowboys and just what this season might look like.

“We are excited for that,” said Vernon Hamilton, who served as head coach of the Cowboys Tuesday as Wade served the fourth of a 10-game NCAA suspension. “We get up to play those opponents. It is an opportunity for us to make a name for ourselves in college basketball.”

While the Cowboys are trying to make a name for themselves, the rest of us are going to learn a lot about them as well.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com