Latest pieces add up for McNeese Men’s Basketball
Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024
A year ago CJ Felder was out of basketball and his future in question.
A month ago Mike Saunders wasn’t sure he would get a chance to play this season at all.
Monday night they combined to play 39 minutes off the McNeese State bench and prove just how deep this basketball team really is.
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The Cowboys used the last two pieces of their puzzle to help knock out Lamar in a battle for first place in the Southland Conference.
Just hours after learning they had received their first vote ever in the AP Top 25 poll, the Cowboys knocked off Lamar 88-69 in front of 3,487 fans who braved the cold and icy conditions to make it inside the Legacy Center.
“A great win and heck of a crowd considering the weather,” said McNeese head coach Will Wade. “We had a lot of guys step up and make plays.”
The win is the 10th straight for the Cowboys, who improved to 15-2 overall and 4-0 in the Southland Conference. Lamar (9-8, 3-1) fell out of a first-place tie with the loss.
“They are a really, really good team,” Wade said of the Cardinals. “We needed to protect our home court. It was imperative we held serve at home.”
As for the fact McNeese got a vote in the national poll, well that was icing before the cake.
“We feel great about it,” said center Felder. “We have a lot more work to do, but it’s good to get noticed. We still feel like we are underdogs.”
Felder had his biggest night of the season, finishing with a double-double scoring his McNeese-high 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He was forced to play more minutes than usual as starting center Antavion Collum was limited to just 19 minutes because of foul trouble.
“I have been struggling the last few games and was just glad to help the team,” said Felder. “I’m thankful to have a game like this when we needed it.”
Saunders, a transfer from Utah, played 17:25 and scored two points while running the point when Javohn Garcia got in foul trouble. He had three assists while turning the ball over just once.
“Saunders gives us a different look, a different level,” said forward Christian Shumate.
Christian Shumate picked up his 27th career double-double, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, also a game-high. Shumate added five dunks to his night’s totals for fun.
“This was a big win for us,” said Shumate. “Everybody wants to know if we are for real or not. They are hunting us.”
Shumate’s most impressive dunk came during a 15-2 second-half run that started after Lamar took a 47-45 lead. Shahada Wells hit a pair of three-pointers to key the rally.
Once McNeese went up 60-49 on a pair of Felder free throws with 13:10 left the Pokes never looked back.
Wells finished with 19 points, 14 coming in the second half. He also dished out nine assists and had six steals.
Javohn Garcia added 17 points and DJ Richards tossed in 14, including a key four-point play with 5:42 left to put the game out of reach at 78-61.
McNeese ended the night hitting 11 of 21 three-point shots and a surprising 25 of 28 free throws.
Guard Chris Pryor led the Cardinals with 19 points.
“We played fast and we played physical,” said Wade.
With all parts now in place, it is likely McNeese isn’t done receiving votes in national polls anytime soon.
Cowboys by the numbers
McNeese State is off to its best start in 51 seasons at 15-2 after beating Lamar Monday night, 88-69 in Lake Charles.
Here is a look at some of the other numbers the Cowboys have posted already this season.
1: Votes the Pokes got for the first time in this week’s AP Top 25 poll.
2: Sellouts of the Legacy Center this season.
3: Times a Poke has been named SLC Player of Week.
4-0: Start in conference play for first time since 1973-74.
6: Spot in the nation McNeese is in scoring defense.
7: Wins since Will Wade returned from 10-game suspension.
9: Most home wins in Legacy Center since record 10 in 2019-20.
10: Current winning streak.
15: Equallying most wins since 2019-20.
27: Number of career double-doubles in Christian Shumate’s career.