Cowboys will play Illinois State in Paradise

Published 11:43 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Cowboys have learned who they will face when they open play at the Paradise Jam in November.

Coming off a record-setting 30-4 season, McNeese State will begin the three-game tournament in St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands against fellow Mid-Major Illinois State in the second of four games on Friday, Nov. 22.

The Cowboys and Redbirds will tip off at 4 p.m. Central Time. All games will be on an ESPN platform.

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The complete bracket of the tournament was released Tuesday.

The Missouri Valley Conference Redbirds finished last season 15-17. Six of the eight teams in the tourney won at least 18 games last year.

“This will be a big test for us early,” said McNeese head coach Will Wade. “Illinois State has had some really good teams over the years and it a really solid program. They play in a very good conference and are competitive.”

Alabama-Birmingham will take on Longwood in the tournament opener at 1:30 p.m. Both of those teams made the NCAA Tournament last year. McNeese beat the Blazers early in the season in Birmingham, 81-60.

Following McNeese on Friday, Cowboys rival Louisiana-Lafayette will take on Liberty with Kansas State meeting George Washington in the nightcap. The championship game will is set for 7 p.m. Monday.

The first-round losers will play their consolation-round games Saturday while the first-round winners will advance to the semifinals Sunday. All teams will play Monday.

“I like the idea that everybody gets a day off,” said Wade. “That is a really good format. It’s tough to play three games in a row at these tournaments.”

Four of the teams will be making return trips to the tournament. Kansas State has been there twice before, beating Missouri to win the title in 2018. Illinois State was in the tourney in 2014, losing the title game to Seton Hall by four points.

Liberty finished seventh in 2017 while UAB took fourth in the inaugural tournament in 2001. McNeese will be making its first trip to the tournament.

“This will be good for us,” said Wade. “There are some really good programs in the tournament and it’s a good chance to play some quality opponents. I’m excited for our kids to get this opportunity.”

The Cowboys will open the season against South Dakota State on Nov. 4 in Sioux Falls at the Sanford Pentagon. The game, set for 5 p.m., is part of the inaugural Field of 68 Showcase.

Coming off a record 19-game turnaround, McNeese is looking to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time in program history. Wade has tried to upgrade the schedule in an effort to do that.

The Cowboys will play twice against teams from the SEC. McNeese will travel to Alabama, which made it to the Final Four last spring, and take on Mississippi State at a neutral site in Tupelo, Miss.

McNeese is still looking to fill four home games to round out the schedule. They hope to bring in at least one if not two Division I programs to the Legacy Center.