AMES, Iowa (AP) Jameel McKay scored 18 points with eight rebounds, and No. 4 Iowa State held off Arkansas-Pine Bluff 78-64 Sunday for its ninth straight win.
Matt Thomas had 17 points in his first start of the season for the Cyclones (9-0). They rested guard Naz Mitrou-Long, who is still working his way back from offseason surgery to repair both hips.
The Golden Lions (2-8) hung around for about 35 minutes against an Iowa State team three days removed from an emotional 83-82 win over rival Iowa. But Monte Morris’ alley-oop to McKay gave the Cyclones a 70-54 lead with just more than 5 minutes left.
Ghiavonni Robinson scored 15 points for Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which lost its third straight.
This was Iowa State’s second-to-last game against a low-major opponent. Arkansas-Pine Bluff caused more problems for the Cyclones than most thought it could.
Iowa State was sloppy from the outset, turning the ball over seven times in the first 10 minutes. It didn’t take its first double-digit lead until late in the first half, when a pair of free throws by Abdel Nader put the Cyclones up 33-23.
The Golden Lions played at times as well as they have all season, and some defensive lapses kept Iowa State from making the kind of big run that would’ve put them away earlier. The Cyclones also committed 13 turnovers, but the game was never really in doubt.
Morris, whose floater with 9 seconds left beat the Hawkeyes, had 12 points and 11 assists for his third double-double this season.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff: The Golden Lions have been beaten by at least 14 points in each of their losses. … Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s first home game isn’t until Jan. 16 against Southern. … Arkansas-Pine Bluff hit just two free throws.
Iowa State: Mitrou-Long started the first eight games, averaging 12 points. Thomas started in place of Long. … Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register missed the game after breaking his leg when fans stormed the court following Thursday’s win over Iowa. Peterson told The Associated Press he hopes to cover Iowa State’s next game, Saturday in Des Moines against Northern Iowa.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff plays at Santa Clara on Tuesday.
Iowa State plays Northern Iowa in Des Moines on Saturday.
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Last season, Texas Southern reached the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season under head coach Mike Davis. The Tigers will be in position to three-peat, but Southern, which last reached the tournament in 2013, and Alabama State look to end the trend.
Texas Southern will begin a quest for a third straight conference title without 2014 SWAC Player of the Year Madarious Gibbs. But the Tigers return two all-SWAC caliber seniors in Chris Thomas and Malcolm Riley. Both finished the season strong, with Thomas averaging 14.8 points in postseason play and Riley posting 18 points and 10 boards in a 62-58 win over Southern in the SWAC Tournament championship game. David Blanks and Tonnie Collier are two key holdovers for the Tigers, but don’t forget about Jose Rodriguez, the 6-foot-7 forward who missed last season due to injury. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2013-14.
Southern brings back one of conference’s best perimeters with Adrian Rodgers, the team’s leading scorer, and junior Trelun Banks and Christopher Hyder, who averaged 3.9 assists per game. The other returning starter for the Jaguars is 6-foot-9 sophomore Jarred Sam. Sam will have to hold down the inside for the Jaguars as the only returning big man who played significant minutes. Southern had one of the better defensive teams in the SWAC last season, and that could remain the same this year. But Southern will have to put an emphasis on rebounding with a thin frontline.
Wedged in the middle of Southern and Texas Southern the past two seasons has been Alabama State. In both campaigns, the Hornets have failed to make it past the SWAC semifinals. Jamel Waters is set to change that in 2015-16. Alabama State graduated two double-digit scorers, but look for Bobby Brown and Steve Rogers, two players capable of knocking down threes, should see benefit from playing alongside Waters.
Jackson State and Alabama A&M should round out the top-5 in the conference. Alabama A&M returns all five starters Ladarius Tabb, the first team snub from a season ago, and Nick West, the SWAC’s top rebounder. Jackson State also has its starting five back, including Raeford Worsham, who was limited last year after transferring in. Arkansas PineBluff, no longer facing an APR ban, can’t be overlooked either with three returning starters.
Favorite: “I’d say Southern because they turn five of their top six guys. And they finished third in the league.”
Sleeper: “I think the team that’s the sleeper is Jackson State with eight of their top guys back.”
Star to watch: “It would probably be Adrian Rodgers from Southern or Chris Thomas from Texas Southern. They are natural perimeter guys. They can both put the ball on the floor. They both can get a basket.”
PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ladarius Tabb, Alabama A&M
A season after being named SWAC Newcomer of the Year, the 6-foot-5 guard should be the favorite for SWAC Player of the Year honors. Tabb led the conference in scoring and was second in rebounding (behind teammate Nick West), averaging 20 points in 19 games against SWAC opponents and recording 11 double-doubles during the course of the 2014-15 season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SWAC TEAM:
Adrian Rodgers, Southern: The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 13.1 points and 4.2 boards per game; one of four starters back for the Tigers.
Jamel Waters, Alabama State: With the loss of three starters, expect the 5-foot-9 guard to see a bump in scoring. Led the team last year at 14.0 points per game, dished out 5.2 assists, second-best in the league.
Nick West, Alabama A&M: The 6-foot-10 big man recorded seven double-doubles as a junior, finishing first in the league in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game.
Raeford Worsham, Jackson State: The Arkansas State transfer scored in double figures in 15 out of 20 games he appeared in, recording four double-doubles in conference play.
To say the least, the 2013-14 season was a difficult one for the SWAC. While the league had a clear regular season champion in Southern, the Jaguars were ineligible for postseason play thanks to low APR scores. That would be the case for three other SWAC programs as well, with those teams allowed to participate in the conference tournament. Ultimately Mike Davis’ Texas Southern Tigers, who were picked by some to win the regular season title, earned the NCAA tournament bid with well-traveled big man Aaric Murray leading the way.
Leading scorers Murray and D’Aris Scarver have moved on, which means that Davis has some significant holes to fill in order to lead Texas Southern back to the NCAA tournament. Davis welcomes back senior forward Jose Rodriguez while reloading with transfers. Nick Shepard (Long Beach State) and Nevin Johnson (Creighton) are ready to go while point guard Deverell Biggs (Nebraska) will be eligible at end of the fall semester. Will the “second chance” route once again work for Texas Southern? If it does, the Tigers will have the talent needed to win the SWAC automatic bid.
Even with those additions, however, Texas Southern likely won’t be the favorite to win the SWAC. That label will be affixed to Alabama State, with head coach Lewis Jackson welcoming back his top five scorers, led by guards Jamel Waters (14.1 ppg, 6.1 apg) and DeMarcus Robinson (11.5 ppg). What makes this more amazing is the fact that the Hornets are one of two SWAC teams ineligible for postseason play (Southern’s the other), and for many programs that marks the start of a mass exodus. With that not being the case for Alabama State, they’re more can capable of earning the SWAC regular season title.
Beyond Alabama State and Texas Southern the picture gets a lot murkier. Alcorn State returns two of its top three scorers from last season, junior guard LeAntwan Luckett (16.0 ppg) and senior forward Octavius Brown (13.5, 6.5 rpg). Luther Riley’s Braves went 9-9 in SWAC play last season, and with five newcomers (three junior college transfers) in the fold the hope in Lorman, Mississippi, is that this group can mesh in time for conference play. And of the four teams to finish below .500 in conference play last season Prairie View A&M is the one best equipped to climb into the top four, with senior guards John Brisco (12.2 ppg) and Montrael Scott (14.9 ppg) leading the way.
Head coach Byron Rimm II added seven newcomers to the program this offseason, so those two seniors will be important not just from a production standpoint but also in regards to the establishing of solid on-court chemistry. Not much seems all that certain in the SWAC at this time, and with Southern losing its top three scorers — led by leading scorer and rebounder Calvin Godfrey, who transferred to Memphis — it remains to be seen what the defending champions can produce given the departures and their postseason ban.
Will it be a two-team race between the reigning tournament champion Texas Southern and an Alabama State team that managed to hold onto its players post-APR ban? It certainly looks that way in October.
PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: LeAntwan Luckett, Alcorn State
Of the five players to earn first team All-SWAC honors last season, Luckett is the only one who returns. The 6-foot-4 wing accounted for 16.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, and he’ll once again lead the way for an Alcorn State team that can improve its standing within the SWAC pecking order.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SWAC TEAM:
Jamel Waters, Alabama State: Waters averaged 14.1 points and a SWAC-best 6.1 assists per game in 2013-14.
Jose Rodriguez, Texas Southern: With Aaric Murray and D’Aris Scarver gone, look for Rodriguez (11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) to step forward this year.
Montrael Scott, Prairie View A&M: Scott was the most improved player in the SWAC last season, raising his scoring by more than nine points per game (5.1 in 2012-13 to 14.9 last season).
Octavius Brown, Alcorn State: Brown, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest last season, is one of the SWAC’s best returning front court players.