COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The men's basketball program at Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi is only seven seasons old, plays an independent schedule, and is part of a small school of about 8,500 students. In a short time, though, the Islanders have had enough big accomplishments to be regarded by No. 14-ranked Maryland as "definitely a team you have to take seriously."
Over the past five seasons, Islanders coach Ronnie Arrow has led his program to wins over teams such as Texas Tech, Texas A&M;, and more recently, Florida State. The Terps (10-2) will face Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi (10-4) at 8 tonight at Comcast Center in what will be their final tuneup before the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule begins Saturday afternoon in Miami.
"This is a team that you have to prepare for," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "You have to do the same things that you do in a league game or any other game you play. That's what I've tried to get through to our team. You cannot mail it in in this game, and even if you play a bad game win by 15. That's not going to happen."
Maryland senior forward Nik Caner-Medley agreed.
"They play very aggressive half-court defense, pretty similar to the way we play defensively," he said. "They press. They seem like they're definitely a team you have to take seriously. ... I think this is going to be a good game for us going into the ACC."
The small school is set on Ward Island, which was once used by the Navy as a radar training facility. Arrow, who was twice named the NCAA Division I Independent Coach of the Year, started the program in July 1998. Its first season officially began in 1999, and it was announced this past September that Texas A&M; Corpus-Christi will join the Southland Conference on July 1.
The Islanders posted a 20-8 record last season, the best among the eight independents, and gained immediate recognition when they beat Florida State, 70-67, on the road.
This year, the team has wins against South Florida, Texas Christian and James Madison, and it lost by one point at Missouri.
"Independents have a tough time scheduling, there's no doubt about it, because you don't have those 14 or 16 conference games," Williams said. "That's been tough on them. He's done a good job of balancing the schedule, but it's gotta be tough."
On paper, Williams said this team is the most challenging of the four nonconference opponents scheduled between the Terps' win against then-ranked No. 6 Boston College on Dec. 11, and Saturday's noon game at Miami. The Islanders are also one of the quicker teams Maryland will face all season.
"It is a certain level opponent," Williams said. "That will help us get ready for what's coming up."
The Islanders return one starter - junior point guard Taurean Mitchell - from last season's squad, but still retain depth at the guard position and usually start three. Junior guard Josh Washington, who played two seasons for coach Bob Knight at Texas Tech, is averaging 10 points, and junior guard Josh Ervin is averaging 4.2 assists. Senior guard Aaron White is the only player on the roster who has started all 14 games.
The Islanders are a strong three-point team, which will challenge Maryland's defense to guard the perimeter, as well as contain 7-foot center Chris Daniels inside. Daniels is the team's leading scorer at 15.6 points a game and has made four of seven three-point attempts. The Islanders are averaging 81.2 points, but Maryland has held its past three nonconference opponents to an average of 59 points.
The Terps held American, Delaware State and Virginia Military Institute to an average of 16.7 points in the first half while outscoring them 135-50.
This one, Williams said, should be different.
"They can play," Williams said. "It's as simple as that."
Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi@No. 14 Maryland Tonight, 8, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM