Cowboys looking for rest, refocus

Published 5:52 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

After their record-setting regular season, the Cowboys will take a couple of days off to rest before refocusing on their new task.

McNeese State easily won its first Southland Conference in 13 years by three games, finishing the league schedule at 17-1. The Cowboys’ 28-3 record overall is the best in program history on the Division I level and the most wins ever in the regular season.

They finished it off with an 81-57 thumping of New Orleans on the road in Lakefront Arena Wednesday night. The victory was the ninth in a row for McNeese and 23rd in the last 23 games. 

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Christian Shumate had his program-record 33rd career double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds to lead the way. Javohn Garcia and DJ Richards added 15 as well while Shahada Wells wrapped up his Player of the Year candidacy with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“It has been a magical regular season,” said McNeese head coach Will Wade. “We have exceeded expectations and the expectations we set were pretty high.

“Now we got to turn the page and get ready for tournament basketball. The season comes down to 80 minutes but we have to finish it off.”

The Cowboys earned a bye into the semifinals of the Southland Tournament, which will be held on their home floor where they are 16-0 this season. McNeese will play Tuesday night inside the Legacy Center at 5:30 p.m.

“We have to re-calibrate, remake ourselves and start over,” said Wade. “It isn’t going to be easy.”

The Cowboys seem ready.

“It has been a great journey, but we have to get our minds right,” said Wells. “We have to do the right things when we are away from the court and when we are on it.

“We know anybody can beat us. We just have to come out and play our basketball.”

The Cowboys earned their rest with a tremendous run that has seen them lose just one time by more than a basket and that coming the day before Thanksgiving. Since then they have been almost unbeatable.

“To see it change so quickly and to be a part of it is amazing,” said Shumate. “It has been a lot of unexpected stuff that you take all in.”

McNeese, coming off 45 losses the two previous years, is tied for the most wins in the nation and has the highest margin of victory at 19 points. They are even better at home.

In the Legacy Center, the Cowboys have outscored their opponents by a 25.9 margin, 19.7 against conference foes. 

None of that matters now. McNeese’s hopes for its first NCAA Tournament berth come down to winning two games on its home court to make this season complete. And the Cowboy coach would love nothing better than to do that for the fans who have welcomed him with open arms.

“It would be by far the best accomplishment of my career,” said Wade. “If we could pull it off I’m not sure anything I ever do after will top it. It would mean so much for our fans and players.”

As for the pressure his team will now face to complete maybe the best turnaround in college basketball history, Wade welcomes it.

“Pressure is a privilege,” he said. “We have earned the right to be here and to have it.”

Now the Cowboys will rest before getting back to work Sunday so they can earn their next championship.