Cowboys try to avoid letdown in Houston

Published 11:45 am Sunday, February 11, 2024

Traveling from the best atmosphere in the Southland Conference to perhaps the worst, the Cowboys hit the road in full swagger.

Coming off an impressive but physical win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in front of a ruckus record crowd of 4,324 Saturday in the Legacy Center, McNeese State heads to Houston Christian Monday night.

The Huskies have drawn just 5,032 for all nine of their home games, just 708 more than McNeese hosted in its last game. HCU averages only 559 fans a game in Sharp Gym.

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So the Cowboys will have to bring their own energy as they try to avoid a letdown, though a couple of buses are heading to Houston from Lake Charles for the game.

“We have been preparing for that,” said center Antavion Collum, who led the Cowboys Saturday with 14 points. “We know they are going to bring the energy at us so we have to match it.”

That has been an issue for McNeese on the road in Southland games. They have struggled early with energy and had to have big comebacks to win.

Still, they will enter the game with a 21-3 record, 10-1 in the conference, and a 2½ game lead over three teams in the race for their first league regular-season title since 2011.

Houston Christian is 6-16, 4-7 but broke a four-game losing skid Saturday with an 86-83 victory over Incarnate Word at home. McNeese has won 16 of its last 17 games.

Meanwhile, McNeese was toppling the Islanders 74-67 thanks in part to forward Christian Shumate. The junior finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocked shots before fouling out in the closing minutes. 

It was Shumate’s 27th double-double of his career. However, all the talk was about his thunderous dunk with three minutes remaining that sealed the game. It made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays at No. 6, the fourth time Shumate has earned a Top 10 honor in the daily highlight package this season.

“That might be No. 1,” Shumate said of his career dunks. “I didn’t really think about it much until I saw it after the game.”

Shumate continues to lead the league in rebounding at 9.5 a game. He will square off against the Southland’s No. 2 glass cleaner Michael Imariagbe of HCU who averages 8.5 boards.

The Cowboys will try to get guard Shahada Wells going. Wells finished with just seven points in the win over Corpus, as the Islanders threw everything at the conference Player of the Year favorite. He was also strapped in early foul trouble.

Wells finished just 2 of 9 from the floor and 0-for-3 on three-point tries.

“They did a good job taking away Hada and we had other guys step up,” said McNeese head coach Will Wade. “It shows that we can win games in a lot of ways even when our best player is taken away.”

Wells remains second in the conference in scoring at 17.5 points. Marcus Greene leads the Huskies at 14.3 points a game.

The Cowboys have four players averaging in double figures led by Wells. Shumate (12.2), DJ Richards (11), and Javohn Garcia (10,4) round out that group. Collum is close at 9.4 a game.

McNeese remains fifth in the country and No. 1 in the Southland in defense, allowing just 61.7 points a game. Houston Christian is last in the league allowing 81.5 a game.

After Monday’s game, the Cowboys will play three of their next four against teams that are trying to chase them down. They will face Nicholls on the road Saturday to start the run then return home a week later against Incarnate Word.

After that, it’s a road trip to Lamar and a return home to face Nicholls again. 

“We only worry about the next game,” said Collum.

That means it’s on to Houston Christian for the Cowboys.