Sellout showdown for Cowboys, Islanders

Published 3:08 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

Expect a little bit of madness February-style Saturday inside the Legacy Center.

It may be early but the Cowboys will play the biggest game in the history of their still relatively new arena when they take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in front of an expected record sellout crowd.

“It is a huge game, no question,” said McNeese State head coach Will Wade.

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The Cowboys enter the 4 p.m. showdown at 20-3, 9-1 in the Southland Conference. They are 12-0 at home and lead the Islanders and Nicholls by 1.5 games. They have also won 15 of their last 16 games.

A victory over two-time defending league champion Islanders (14-8) 7-2 will give McNeese full control of the regular season race. A loss and everything tightens up considerably. But a win is not the end nor is a loss a disaster.

“We have a lot of play left,” said Wade. “It’s not like we are going to cut down the nets if we win or it is over if we lose.”

Still, a victory would give the Cowboys their first season sweep ever over Corpus Christi. They broke a 16-game losing streak to the Islanders when McNeese rallied from 18 down with 13 minutes left to win 62-61 in Texas 19 days earlier.

“That was a big hurdle to clear,” Wade said. “You have to go right through the storm sometimes.”

For forward Christian Shumate, this is a little more personal.

“We have been doing a lot of firsts this year,” said Shumate. “A sweep of them would be huge. I was a part of six of those 16 losses.”

Shumate’s rebound of a missed free throw with .3 seconds remaining was the game-winner the first time around.

“We know they are going to be physical and give us their best,” said Shumate. “We expect their best. We have to focus on us.

“As long as we control what we can control we should be good.”

DJ Richards came off the bench in the first meeting to lift the fire for McNeese. He finished with a team-high 12 points.

Last Monday Richards injured his ankle in the first half against Northwestern State and left the game. He returned to score all of his 12 points in the second half.

Richards said his ankle is fine and he is good to go against the Islanders.

Corpus, which struggles to score points and wins with defense mostly, did get 18 points from Jordan Roberts.

“They are going to try to grind you down and win in the paint,” said Wade. “They are a very good team that is physical and will challenge us. We will have to be a lot better than the first time we played them.”

The Cowboys hope to get more out of star guard Shahada Wells this time. The conference’s second-leading scorer at 18 points a game was just 4-for-16 from the field against the Islanders, struggling to score 10 points.

“They killed us on rebounding, especially their guards,” said Wells. “We have to go to the ball and help out there and get open shots.”

Shumate averages 12.2 a contest while Richards (11.1) and Javohn Garcia (10.3) are also in double digits for McNeese. Shumate leads the conference in rebounding at 9.4.

Gary Clark leads the Islanders at 11.5 points and 8.2 boards a game.

The contest will likely be a defensive struggle. The teams are the top two in the Southland in points allowed with the Cowboys fifth in the nation giving up just 61.5 an outing. Corpus Christi is 48th overall at 66.8.

“They are a very good defense, best we have played,” said Wade. “It is important for us to get out in transition so we don’t go against their half-court defense.”

McNeese could use its defense to create offense. The Cowboys average 20.1 points per game while forcing 16.3 turnovers.

The game will be the fourth sellout of the season in Lake Charles.

This won’t be a winner-take-all contest, but it could be a prelude to the SLC tournament championship game.