Lions Basketball Teams Aim For Glory In Strange Season
The Texas A&M University-Commerce men’s and women’s basketball teams are looking to bring some excitement to a campus and a fan base that have had less to cheer about, at least in person, in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2019-2020 NCAA Division II sports season to an early end and has put a damper on the current 2020-21 season.
So far, both Lions squads are poised to compete for their respective Lone Star Conference championships. The Lion women, in particular, seem capable of a deep run in the playoffs, but all college sports teams and athletes face an uncertain upcoming semester, and neither individual games nor the season can be taken for granted.
For the time being, fans are not able to attend games in person. The A&M-Commerce Athletics Department has announced its home game attendance policy through Jan. 16. Currently, no tickets are being sold. Attendance is limited to players' families (limited pass list) and essential campus officials. Later this month, the university is expected to announce whether the current attendance policy is to be modified or kept as-is for upcoming games.
The Lion men enter this weekend's play with a 2-2 record, good enough for second place in the LSC’s North Division behind Dallas Baptist University. The A&M-Commerce women are undefeated, sitting atop the LSC North with a 4-0 mark.
Lion Women Among Nation’s Elite
Led by seventh-year head coach Jason Burton, the Lion women are currently ranked no. 9 nationally in the Division II Sports Information Directors Association poll. The Lions began the season in December by sweeping St. Edward’s University in Austin by 85-74 and 73-62 margins. In January, A&M-Commerce then took a pair from St. Mary’s University at The Field House in Commerce with 69-46 and 71-49 triumphs.
Following the St. Edward’s games, on Dec. 21, sophomore guard Dyani Robinson was named LSC Offensive Player of the Week, while senior forward Juliana Louis earned LSC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Robinson averaged 21 points per game in the St. Edward’s series. Louis averaged 7.5 rebounds per game against St. Edward’s while adding 3 blocked shots and 5 steals in the two-game set.
Currently, redshirt sophomore guard Desiray Kernal leads the Lions in scoring (16.8 PPG), with senior guard Chania Wright also averaging double-digit point totals (10.3 PPG). Senior forward Tac Agang leads A&M-Commerce in rebounding (6.8 RPG).
The Lion women must find a way to get around fellow powerhouses Lubbock Christian University (4-0) and West Texas A&M University (2-1) in order to win the LSC. In the D2SIDA national poll, Lubbock Christian ranks third and West Texas A&M occupies the no. 19 spot. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association will begin publishing its national poll in January. A&M-Commerce was picked third in the LSC preseason poll, and that’s reflected in the Lions’ third-place spot in the NCAA Division II South Central regional rankings, where conference foes Lubbock Christian and West Texas A&M occupy the one and two placements, respectively.
A&M-Commerce faces what might be its toughest test of the regular season with a two-game set at Lubbock Christian this Friday and Saturday. Both games tip off at 3:30 p.m. The Lions are not scheduled to play West Texas A&M in the regular season.
Lion Men, DBU Favorites In LSC North
Fourth-year men’s head coach Jaret von Rosenberg leads a Lions team picked seventh in the LSC preseason poll. A&M-Commerce began the season in December on the road, with a 100-70 loss at no. 3 West Texas A&M and an 85-69 triumph at St. Mary’s. The Lions then split a January two-game set against St. Mary’s in Commerce (65-58 win and 68-61 loss). Senior guard Devin Bethely leads A&M-Commerce in scoring average with 133.3 PPG. Redshirt sophomore forward Alex Peavy is one of only five LSC men averaging more than one blocked shot per game (1.3).
Around the conference, West Texas A&M, ranked third in the nation, remains the team to beat. However, COVID-related cancellations have left the Buffaloes with only a single completed game thus far, the December victory over A&M-Commerce. Other LSC teams ranked nationally in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Poll are no. 9 St. Edward’s (2-0), and no. 25 Dallas Baptist (2-0). Lubbock Christian, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and University of Texas-Permian Basin received votes in the poll, but did not crack the top 25. In the South Central regional rankings, LSC teams in the top 10 include West Texas A&M (1), Angelo State University (2), St. Edward’s (T-3), Lubbock Christian (T-5), Texas A&M-Kingsville (T-7), and Dallas Baptist (T-7).
The Lions are scheduled to play Dallas Baptist in a two-game home-and-home series Feb. 4 and Feb. 6 that could well decide the winner of the LSC North Division.
For both men’s and women’s basketball, the LSC organizes the 15 competing schools into three five-team divisions. Both Lions squads have Cameron University, Oklahoma Christian University, and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith as divisional opponents. Dallas Baptist completes the LSC North on the men’s side, while Texas Woman’s University rounds out the North Division in women’s hoops.
Because of the schedule imbalances this season resulting from cancellations, the LSC will be using a point-based system, rather than winning percentage, to determine standings and seedings.
The Lone Star Conference announced it will use a point rating system to determine its men’s and women’s basketball standings this year due to COVID-19 related schedule adjustments. The system will factor in location and strength of opponents as well as wins and losses. The LSC will begin publishing rankings based on the system in mid-January and update rankings weekly, the conference said in a release.
This year’s schedules feature teams playing two consecutive game against one another, sometimes at a single site (non-division games), other times with each team hosting once (against divisional opponents). The purpose of these two-game series is to create a temporary “bubble” effect that isolates teams’ exposure to one another to a single week of the regular season.
The conference tournament will consist of the top eight men’s and women’s teams with first-round games on-campus on March 2 followed by the four winning teams advancing to the final site at the highest remaining seed on March 5 and March 6.
Games will be broadcast on KETR, with veteran play-by-play man Charlie Chitwood calling the action. Pregame coverage typically begins 12-22 minutes before tipoff, depending on adjacent programming.
KETR is currently set to broadcast all games, with the exception of Feb. 6, when the Lion women are scheduled to play Texas Woman’s in Denton and the Lion men are scheduled to play at Dallas Baptist. The choice of which game to broadcast on KETR on that date will be made in February.
Coming up on KETR
Texas A&M University-Commerce at Lubbock Christian University
Men’s and Women’s Basketball
Friday, Jan. 8
3:30 p.m. Women’s game
5:30 p.m. Men’s game
Saturday, Jan. 9
3:30 p.m. Women’s game
5:30 p.m. Men’s game