CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS (But The Game Is On) – The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders played their first game in the American Bank Center of the season Monday night, losing 86-65 to sister school Texas A&M in front of the second largest crowd in school history. It was a very ugly game for the Islanders, who were forced out of their comfort zone all night long.
“They were just better to night than we were,” said Islanders head coach Perry Clark. “We got beat tonight by a better basketball team.”
Photo Credit: George Tuley
The Aggies started off the game a bit slowly, not executing their sets very well on their first few possessions. This allowed the Islanders to stay within single digits despite their slow start. But once the Aggies were able to string together a few successful scoring plays, the Islanders failed to respond, only creating more problems when they tried to do too much. The Isles did cut the lead to 12 near the end of the first half but a quick run in the final minute gave the Aggies a comfortable half time lead.
“I knew going in that they had to be deficient in some area for us to be able to have a chance to win this basketball game,” continued Clark. “And when you look at it, they weren’t deficient in any area. And when that happens, its a tough mountain to climb.”
Coach Clark was right. The Aggies were not lacking in any major statistical category in this game, which allowed them to dominate throughout. They made 17 of their 21 free throw attempts, they took care of business on the glass, they moved the ball around and they played very tough defense. With no major holes, the Islanders had to play a perfect game tonight in order to beat the more talented Aggies and that just didn’t happen.
“They paced the game the way they wanted to,” said Perry. “I never felt like we were ever in control. They did the things that they wanted to do. Whenever we go close, they found to a way to spread it out. Whatever it took to get separation, they answered it.”
Time after time, the Aggies would get buckets in transition or execute their offense to produce a quick look, which got the Islanders playing out of their sets and trying to go tit-for-tat with a team that had a double digit lead for more than half of the game. That style of play is never going to work, especially when you aren’t converting the free throws that you earn when you actually succeed at pushing the pace. The Islanders actually got to the line more in this game, shooting 30 free throws to the Aggies’ 21, but they made just 21 of them.
Additionally, the Islanders had a lot of trouble with turnovers. As a team, Texas A&M-CC turned it over 20 times while compiling just nine assists, which is a ratio that no team at any level can overcome without a masterful performance at the line or on the boards (or if you have someone that can score at will in isolation, but LeBron doesn’t grow on trees). Those 20 Islander turnovers lead to 31 Aggie points while the Isles scored just 13 points off turnovers.
At the end of the game, the rebounding numbers evened out a bit. The Isles grabbed a few meaningless rebounds in the final five or so minutes, making the final margin of -2 on the boards seem like less of an issue than it actually was. During the first half, when the Aggies were establishing their large lead, they possessed a 19 to nine rebounding advantage while grabbing eight offensive rebounds.
Senior guard B.J. Holmes, who is making the transition from back-up guard to starting point after Donald Sloan graduated last summer, was the catalyst for the Aggies.
“A lot of guys had to step up, and B.J. did,” Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon said. “He made big plays every time it felt like they would make a run. He put a stop to it.”
Holmes struggled with his usually lethal outside shot, making just two of his six three point attempts, but was so effective in all other areas of the game. Holmes finished with 13 points, seven assists, seven steals and four rebounds for the Aggies, an impressive second game for his senior campaign. Holmes’ ability to strip the ball from the Islanders’ post players and push the ball in transition was a big part of the Aggies gameplan for this game.
“We talked a lot about digging on the posts,” Holmes said after the game about the key to his incredible seven steal performance. “(The Islanders) have two good bigs and when they got it I just tried to get my hand in there. On the bounce I was able to get my hand on it on probably three of my seven steals. Its always big to get out in transition and get some easy baskets because when you get some easy baskets like that it makes the game easier.”
Sophomore forward Khris Middleton had a team high 16 points for the Aggies on six-of-nine shooting. In just 17 minutes of play, sophomore guard Naji Hibbert added 12 points on five-of-seven shooting with a pair of three’s. Highly touted freshman Kourtney Roberson had 14 points on seven-of-nine shooting and five rebounds in just under a half of play. Junior guard Dash Harris had an off night, missing all five of his shots from the field while turning it over twice.
The Islanders were led by senior forward Demond Watt, who will have to shoulder a bigger offensive load this season with former Islander Kevin Palmer now in the NBA’s Developmental League. Watt had a career high 16 rebounds in this contest to go along with 21 points on six-of-12 shooting (13 free throw attempts and nine makes). Watt was a hand full for the Aggies all game long down low and he played all but one minute in this game.
Sophomore guard Terence Jones was impressive as well, displaying a relentless desire to attack the rim. Jones finished the game with 16 points including seven free throws. Anytime Jones had a lane in the half court on in transition, he attacked it and was generally effective. Even if he missed the initial shot, chances were he drew the foul and knocked down both of his attempts from the line. Jones played the most minutes of any guard for the Islanders and looked like a very impressive young player that can make an impact for the Isles this season.
With a murder’s row of opponents coming up for the Islanders, on the road nonetheless, Texas A&M-CC will have to make a lot of improvement in order to compete with the likes of Oklahoma State and Kansas in their infamous home arenas. When asked what he would take away from this game and what the team as a whole needed to improve on, Jones did not hesitate to answer.
“The ability to defend. They shot a real good percentage from the field. We gave up a lot of open looks. So (we just need to) defend and get better.”
The Islanders will have to lock down on defense in order to compete in their next game, which is this Wednesday night against the Cowboys in Gallagher-Iba Arena.