McNeese teams face bounce-back SLC games
After a weekend that saw both McNeese State basketball teams take tough losses on the road against Northwestern State, they both look to rebound tonight. The women are on the road to West Texas to take on Abilene Christian, while the men will host ACU.
Going on the road and winning, especially in conference, is hard. Both McNeese and ACU found that out the hard way over the weekend.
While the Cowboys (5-10, 1-1 Southland Conference) blew a lead in a 66-61 loss to NSU — a lot due to going ice cold from the free-throw line and turning the ball over too much — ACU (12-3, 1-1) trailed by as many as 25 points at Sam Houston State. Though the Wildcats fought back, they could not complete the comeback and lost 71-68.
Tonight both teams will be eager to put on a better show. McNeese head coach Heath Schroyer said he knows that this will be a tough game against a team that sports a 12-3 record.
“Abilene (Christian) is one of the best teams in our league,” Schroyer said during his weekly news conference. “They’re good. Offensively they’re very efficient; they shoot the three ball well. And then defensively, they’re very sound. Obviously it will be a tough game, but one we’re looking forward to because it’s our first conference home game. It’s a big game for us. Every game is big, but we’re looking forward to playing at home.”
ACU has won three out of its last four games and five out of its last seven. All three of the Wildcats’ losses have come on the road. They are a combined 9-0 in home and neutral-site games.
The Cowboys will have their hands full on both ends of the court. ACU is ranked sixth in the country in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.6 percent. Defensively the Wildcats are tied for 19th in Division I in points allowed at 62.2 per game.
The Wildcats are also not short on experience; nine of their players are either juniors or seniors. Senior forward Jaren Lewis leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, one of three ACU players averaging double-figures scoring. Juniors Jalone Friday (center) and Payten Ricks (guard) average 13.1 and 11.7 ppg, respectively. Lewis leads the team in rebounding at 5.7 per game.
While ACU does not allow a lot of points, it’s because it creates a lot of turnovers (17.8 per game). But if McNeese can manage to not turn the ball over, it should have good chances to score. The Wildcats allow opposing teams to shoot 44.1 percent. That is usually negated by ACU’s hot shooting, both from inside the 3-point arc and out. The Wildcats’ 49.1 percent from the field ranks 23rd in the country.
McNeese will hope for more performances from Sha’markus Kennedy. The junior forward has averaged 18 points on 81.2 percent shooting, eight rebounds and two blocks in the Cowboys’ first two SLC games.
“He’s just getting better and better,” Schroyer said of Kennedy. “He’s only 20 years old; he’s got a bright future. I’m excited about Sha’markus and his development.”
The teams met once last year with ACU coming out on top 79-74.
In the first half of McNeese’s 82-63 loss to NSU, Cowgirls head coach Kacie Cryer saw at least two instances when her players did not dive for a loose ball on the court. During a free-throw attempt, Cryer called the two players over and scolded them. The lack of energy was apparent throughout the team in the first half as McNeese fell behind by as many as 23.
The Cowgirls (2-11, 0-2) improved in the second half, playing the Demons to a 38-38 draw in the final two quarters. But that only means so much. Cryer and the rest of her team know that they have to play better from the start.
McNeese will be put to the test again when it takes on the Wildcats who have won their first two SLC games after losing three straight to end nonconference play.
ACU is 28th in the country and tops in the SLC in rebounding margin at 8.5 per game. While McNeese can certainly hold its own with a 4.8 rebounding margin, but if the energy lapses, like it sometimes tends to do for the Cowgirls, it could spell trouble in the form of giving up offensive rebounds.
Junior Dominique Golightly leads ACU in scoring with 13.7 ppg. She is also one of five Wildcats who average at least 4.5 rebounds per game; sophomore Makayla Mabry leads the team with 6.4 per game.
McNeese lost its lone matchup to ACU last season 80-75. The Wildcats (9-4, 2-0) have won the last four meetings.
Cowgirls at Abilene 6 p.m.
Abilene at Cowboys 6:30 p.m.
FILE: McNeese State Cowgirls forward Mercedes Rogers (21) and Abilene Christian’s Sierra Allen battle for possession of a loose ball at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Wednesday, January 3, 2018.