Jim Gazzolo column: Where there’s a Will …

Published 3:27 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Living up to their new nickname, the Bayou Bandits stole a game Monday night in front of all to see.

Making their national television debut, the Cowboys showed their flare for the dramatics.

With its perfect Southland Conference record and winning streak on the line, McNeese State pulled off the heist of their college basketball season — to date. And they did it with ESPNU cameras rolling to document the events.

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The Cowboys rallied from 18 points down with 13 minutes remaining to knock off two-time defending league champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in a battle for first place.

It was the biggest second-half comeback in program history, as this group of bandits keeps knocking down milestones in a sensational start to their season. Monday night on the beach in Texas was just the latest.

The victory improved the Cowboys to 17-2, equaling the best start in their history. It also ended a 16-game losing streak at the hands of the Islanders, who had turned McNeese into their private doormat.

But these are not your recent Cowboys. Even when the Islanders went on a 20-0 run there was no quit from a McNeese squad that believes no deficit is too big and no situation too desperate to overcome.

Instead, D.J. Richards jumped off the bench to ignite a fire that would end by burning the Islanders’ hopes. Richards went on a personal 9-2 run, including making his third four-point play in the last three games, to get the Cowboys going.

Christian Shumate put an end to the comeback when he tipped in a missed shot with 0.3 seconds left to give McNeese the dramatic 62-61 victory, their 12th in a row.

“That is who we are,” said Cowboys head coach Will Wade. “We are always going to fight, always going to battle.”

This is from the man who has embraced wearing the black hat and putting a target on his team’s back. We won’t get into the horse he rode in on or the mask he is pictured wearing to promote the team.

Shumate’s flare for drama and sense of timing earned him another spot on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Top Plays of the Day segment. It was the junior forward’s third such honor, proving the league’s decision to play games on Monday night was also a winner.

As for McNeese, the added exposure will only enhance the school’s growing brand.

“You can’t put a price tag on what this means,” Wade said. “You can’t buy that kind of exposure for our program, our university, or our community.

“And we had drama, which is just good TV.”

The Cowboys don’t want to continue to wait until the last second to win games, but they are getting pretty good at it. They did the same thing when they rallied from 13-point down to topple rival Louisiana-Lafayette 74-72 at home on Dec. 17.

“We have shown we can do it but we have to find a way not to get in those positions,” Wade said. “You can’t keep doing that, but we will fight you until the end.”

You would expect nothing else from a group of bandits who seem to have nothing to lose.

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