Wade debut: 10-game NCAA suspension over for McNeese coach

Published 4:50 am Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The wait is over, Willy has been freed.

Will Wade will make his McNeese State coaching debut after serving a 10-game NCAA suspension tonight when the Cowboys host Southern Mississippi.

“We get our guy back,” said point guard Omar Cooper.

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Off to their best start since 1976, the upstart Cowboys (8-2) will take on the Golden Eagles with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

It is the most anticipated McNeese game since the Cowboys hosted Boston College in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on March 16, 2011. The Cowboys lost 82-64.

“We are excited to have coach Wade on the bench,” McNeese guard Shahada Wells said. “He has done a great job bringing this team together.”

Both squads enter the game riding three-game win streaks that include a victory over Alabama-Birmingham. The Golden Eagles (5-4) knocked off another Southland Conference team, Northwestern State, Saturday at home.

The teams have met eight times with Southern Miss having won six including the last four. Last year the Eagles knocked off McNeese 86-67 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The Eagles’ lone trip to Lake Charles was on New Year’s Eve day in 2011 when they won 65-56.

“This will be a very big test for us,” Wade said. “Southern Miss is an excellent program year after year. We are stepping up in weight class.”

This season the Eagles are led by 6-foot-4 senior guard Austin Crowley, a transfer from Ole Miss who was the Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year last season. Crowley helped Southern Miss to the league regular-season championship.

This year he is averaging

15.9 points a game, just ahead of forward Victory Hart (15.4). The duo should be a good match with McNeese guard Shahada Wells and forward Christian Shumate.

Wells leads the Cowboys in scoring at 19.1 while Shumate averages 12.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

Wells, a Texas Christian transfer, is hitting on 54 percent of his shots from the floor and 44.8 percent on 3-pointers. He sat out McNeese’s last game a week ago against Mississippi University for Women.

So did sharpshooter Jovhon Garcia. Wade said both players are set to go.

Garcia has started all eight games he has played in and is averaging 9.5 a game.

“They are good,” Wade said. “We have been off for eight days so we are healthy. I hope we are more rested than rusty.”

McNeese is waiting to hear from the NCAA if forward/center C.J. Felder and guard Mike Saunders have been cleared to play. They are awaiting decisions by both the NCAA and a couple of court cases, including one filed last Thursday in West Virginia that would make all double transfers immediately eligible to play.

While all eyes will be on Wade more than a few peaks will be taken toward a court in Wheeling, West Virginia. Judge John Preston Bailey will preside over a hearing that could make the McNeese players eligible.

Felder and Saunders are transfers who have been trying to get waivers from the NCAA.

The lawsuit was filed by seven state attorneys general, and while neither Cowboy was named in the case, they could benefit along with all other transfer athletes in the country who are in the same process.

Wade has said both could play if and when they are cleared.

Southern Miss point guard Andre Curbelo, who played two seasons at Illinois before transferring to St. John’s last season, might also play as early as tonight. Curbelo is the former Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year in 2021.

He transferred to the Eagles after one season at St. John’s.