Wiping the slate clean
Start of conference play offers new life
After a frustrating nonconference slate for both the McNeese State men’s and women’s basketball teams, both can claim a fresh start when the Southland Conference schedule tips off tonight.
The teams play Incarnate Word with the men in San Antonio for a 7 p.m. tip-off while the women will be the host the Cardinals at 6:30 p.m.
In the postgame press conference after the Cowboys’ 91-73 win over Campbellsville-Harrodsburg, head coach Heath Schroyer said wasn’t overly impressed with the Cowboys’ performance.
Sure, they won the game, but will an effort like that against an NAIA school be enough once SLC play starts?
The Cardinals (5-8) have lost three in a row and six of their last seven games. UIW’s most recent result was an 81-71 loss at DePaul on Dec. 19.
Both teams have gotten the majority of their wins against sub-Division I teams. Also, both have one nonconference win over a Division I opponent: UIW defeated North Dakota State 80-78 in overtime on Nov. 17 and McNeese took down North Carolina Central 77-61 on Dec. 13.
“I think (UIW head coach Carson Cunningham) does a heck of a job there,” Schroyer said. “I’ve watched him at Carroll College and he’s a really good ball coach. They have really good young players; I think they’ve had a pretty successful preseason themselves. The most important thing is we’ve got to come there with the mind-set of figuring out how to win the game.”
It will be a battle of teams that have struggled offensively. Both average more than 15 turnovers per game (15.2 for UIW, 15.8 for McNeese). Both struggle to shoot the 3-pointer (29.3 percent for UIW, 28.3 percent for McNeese).
The Cowboys do come off a game when they hit their second-most 3s in a game this season (8) against CU-Harrodsburg.
UIW is led by redshirt sophomore forward Christian Peevy, who averages a team-high 14 points per game. He also chips in four rebounds per game. Freshman guard Morgan Taylor (11.8 ppg) is the other Cardinal averaging in double figures. Taylor leads UIW in assists with 42.
When McNeese is on defense, it needs to be careful not to put the Cardinals on the free-throw line. UIW leads the nation in free throw percentage (80.2 percent).
Schroyer said he knows the importance of winning in conference and on the road. Doing it to start SLC play could give the Cowboys a big boost.
“Obviously in league play trying to win road games is very difficult,” he said. “We’re going to have to play well. We’re going to have to be really connected on and off the floor. We’re going to have to execute at a high level, take care of the ball.”
Head coach Kacie Cryer wouldn’t say if the Cowgirls’ SLC opener holds any extra importance. She said it’s another important conference game and that the team will have to play well every time out during conference play.
But it’s hard not to look at how big this game is for both teams. UIW goes into the game winless at 0-11. McNeese is 2-9. Neither has defeated a Division I opponent.
Winning could give that team a confidence boost heading into the early part of conference play. Meanwhile, a loss might hurt the confidence of a team that desperately needs it.
While UIW has struggled, its most recent game was a sign of progress. Despite losing to Rice 74-63, the Cardinals played the Owls closer than McNeese did when the teams met in Houston on Nov. 25, a 93-65 Rice victory.
Imani Robinson leads UIW in scoring (9.3 ppg) and total assists (27), but she has also turned the ball over the most for the Cardinals (42).
Despite the Cardinals struggling in most categories, their 122 points scored and 145 given up in the last two games is the best two-game stretch from UIW.
Incarnate Word at Cowgirls, 6:30 p.m.
Cowboys at UIW, 7 p.m.
McNeese’s Callie Maddox drives against Louisiana Tech’s Grayson Bright at McNeese H&HP Complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday, December 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)