Taylor, Peevy lead Incarnate Word past UT Tyler

Incarnate Word is off to a 2-1 start under first-year coach Carson Cunningham (at left).

Freshman guard Morgan Taylor scored 19 points and sophomore forward Christian Peevy added 15 Saturday as the Incarnate Word Cardinals downed UT Tyler, 66-54, at the McDermott Center.

With the victory, UIW improved to 2-1 on the season. UIW will host Texas Lutheran on Monday night to complete a three-game homestand.

UIW is a fledgling NCAA Division I program competing in the Southland Conference.

The Cardinals are playing in their first season under coach Carson Cunningham, a former guard at Purdue.

Cunningham is in his first season as a Division I coach after working the past five seasons at NAIA Carroll College in Montana.

So far, the coach has been playing with a lot of young players.

It hurt him in the opener last week when UIW was pounded 87-37 against Big 12 power Texas Tech.

But the young Cardinals seem to be finding some confidence against teams from the lower levels of college basketball.

First, they defeated NAIA St. Francis, Illinois, 63-49, on Friday night.

Next, a night later, they handled UT-Tyler with ease.

Both nights, Cunningham started four freshmen and a sophomore.

Despite their youth, the Cardinals pulled away from the Patriots mid-way through the first half and led by 22 several times in the second half.

Notes

The Patriots are in the first year of a transition from NCAA Division III to Division II.


UIW senior Charles Brown hits a shot in the paint Friday night against St. Francis, Illinois. Freshman point guard Morgan Taylor started the play out front by passing to another freshman, Romello Wilbert, who fed Brown in the post.

Cunningham wins first game as UIW basketball coach

The University of the Incarnate Word held St. Francis, Illinois, to 28.6 percent shooting Friday night en route to a 63-49 victory, the first for Carson Cunningham as coach of the Cardinals.

With the win, UIW improved to 1-1 on the season and earned a measure of redemption after a 50-point loss at Texas Tech on Tuesday.

St. Francis remained at 0-0 as it played the game as an exhibition.

“It was nice to see the guys really working on defense,” said Cunningham, who was in his UIW home debut. “I thought they were really trying to execute the game plan on defense.

“Give St. Francis a ton of credit. They played great, and they played really hard. It’s nice to get the win. I think it’s also going to help us get better.”

UIW plays as an NCAA Division I program in the Southland Conference, and so St. Francis, an NAIA team based in Joliet, Illinois, entered the Convocation Center looking for an upset.

In the second half, the Saints put together a 15-4 run to take a 39-38 lead with 11:52 remaining. Undaunted, UIW scored 13 of the next 15 points to regain control.

After a fast break dunk by freshman guard Morgan Taylor, UIW was up, 51-41. St. Francis never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Individual leaders

Senior forward Charles Brown III came off the bench to score 14 points to lead the Cardinals, who shot 60 percent rrom the floor.

In addition, Taylor scored 11 in a team-high 34 minutes. Sophomore forward Christian Peevy added 10, all in the first half.

St. Francis point guard Terrion Howard, only 5-feet-4, led the Fighting Saints with 20.

First half

Peevy came off the bench for 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in the half.

Notes

The game marked the home debut for Cunningham, who was hired last March to replace Ken Burmeister. Burmeister stepped down after 12 seasons as coach.

Cunningham, who worked the past five seasons at Carroll College in Montana, started four freshmen and a sophomore. He has eight freshman on his 15-man roster.

Moment of silence

A moment of silence was observed before the game for the late Simi Socks, a former UIW player who died last June.

Socks, a power forward, played in 80 games for the Cardinals over the past three seasons.

Near the end of the first half (see video above), St. Francis defenders cut off Peevy on the baseline. But Peevy dished between two men to freshman Bryce Davis for a layup.

UIW’s Cunningham wants to play with ‘competitive fire’

I’m really anxious to go out and watch Coach Carson Cunningham’s home debut as the University of the Incarnate Word’s men’s basketball coach tonight.

UIW will host St. Francis of Illinois at 7 p.m. at the McDermott Convocation Center.

As tipoff draws near, I remember the first time I had a chance to interview the new coach.

Back in March, UIW had just announced Cunningham, and I was on another assignment out on the Northwest Side of San Antonio.

I can’t remember if he called me, or if I called him, but when I did get him on the phone, I was sitting in the foyer of a Luby’s restaurant.

It was pretty strange, with people coming in and out of the eatery, and I’m sitting on a little bench, asking the coach about his vision for the future of the program.

“The goal is to build a values-infused program that aligns with the mission of the university, delivers a fulfilling experience for the student-athletes and has a tremendous competitive fire,” Cunningham said.

Now that I think about it, I may need to go grab a late lunch before tipoff.

Records

UIW (0-1)
St. Francis (0-0)

Season opener

Texas Tech shot 63 percent in the second half Tuesday night and blew out UIW, 87-37. Tech was an Elite Eight team last year in the NCAA tournament.

Players to watch for UIW

Antoine Smith — A 6-7 freshman from Westerville, Ohio, who scored 16 at Texas Tech on 5 of 9 shooting.

Charles Brown III — A 6-7 senior from New Orleans, Brown led UIW in scoring last year. He was held to five points in Lubbock.

Coming up

UIW plays at home Saturday night, hosting Texas-Tyler, and again on Monday, against Texas Lutheran.

Notable

St. Francis coach Ryan Marks is a familiar face in Texas college basketball circles, having coached previously at St. Edward’s University in Austin and at Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

UIW forward Charles Brown III takes it strong to the basket against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. (Soobum Im / The University of the Incarnate Word)

With two Catholic schools in Final Four spotlight, UIW rebuilds

Carson Cunningham started work this week as men’s basketball coach at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

The presence of the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and the Villanova Wildcats at the NCAA Final Four this week serves as proof that small, Catholic schools can compete – and win – against larger, state-supported institutions.

On the other hand, the Division I basketball gods don’t always smile on the Catholic institutions.

If you doubt that, just call over to the athletic department at the University of the Incarnate Word and ask for new men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham.

Cunningham, who has been on the job for only a few days, is busy trying to figure out how to correct problems that led to a 19-38 combined record the past two seasons.

UIW finished 7-21 last year and at one point lost 17 straight.

Asked about the nature of the rebuilding task at UIW, Cunningham said Tuesday afternoon that “we certainly have work to do.”

Which is precisely why UIW athletic director Brian Wickstrom wanted him in the first place.

Cunningham, a former starting point guard for Gene Keady at Purdue, has found success as a head coach at both Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana, and at NAIA Carroll College in Helena, Montana.

At Carroll, the Fighting Saints won only two games in 2012-13, the year before Cunningham arrived. In his last two seasons, they won 29 and 28, respectively.

“I have been through a rebuilding process before,” Cunningham said. “So, I’m confident we can build a program (at UIW) that alumni and current students and fans can be proud of and can celebrate. That’s certainly the goal.”

In Saturday’s national semifinals at the Alamodome, Loyola-Chicago will take on Michigan, before Philadelphia-based Villanova battles against Kansas.

Some might suggest that it’s a good omen for Cunningham that two Catholic schools from urban areas have advanced to play at the dome this week, his first on the job at UIW.

Though Cunningham smiled at the question, he wasn’t buying into that line of thinking. He just said it shows that every school has an opportunity to succeed with hard work.

“Being from Northwest Indiana and having lived in Chicago for several years, you know, I know Loyola and its background and kind of its general story quite well,” he said. “To think that it’s in the Final Four in 2018 is unbelievable.

“I think it just represents opportunity. It’s not easy. What they’re doing is out of this world, and I’m sure they feel great about it, as they should.”

A former history teacher at DePaul, in Chicago, Cunningham said “it’s awesome” that Loyola’s 98-year-old chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, is getting recognized for her many years of service to the school.

“I think it just serves as a motivator to us,” Cunningham said. “I know, really, so many people across the nation are awed by Sister Jean’s story, and I think it’s a great representation of what Catholic higher education is, at the heart.”

UIW doesn’t have the resources to match Villanova, which plays in the powerful Big East Conference.

Even though UIW has recorded a few important victories on the basketball court over the past few years under former coach Ken Burmeister, the program lacks the tradition of a Villanova or a Loyola-Chicago, which have both won NCAA titles.

Still, UIW does have the tradition of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, brave souls who came to Texas in 1869 to help set up a hospital to treat victims of cholera, Cunningham said.

The coach also pointed out the accomplishments of Sister Walter Maher, the vice president for Mission and Ministry at UIW, whose background includes work as an administrator in the CHRISTUS Healthcare system.

Like Sister Jean, Sister Walter works with UIW athletes.

Cunningham said it’s important in starting to build his program that it “wave the banner” for Sister Walter and for those who came before her.

“That’s deeply motivating to know that we are part of that story,” the coach said. “Even if it’s just through basketball, we can at least be connected to that larger mission. Again, that’s a great honor.”

Carson Cunningham: ‘I’m just really grateful for the opportunity’

Former Purdue University guard Carson Cunningham says he is “super excited” to get the job as men’s basketball coach at the University of the Incarnate Word.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the University of the Incarnate Word mission,” said Cunningham, who has coached the past five seasons at NAIA Carroll College in Helena, Montana.

UIW is an NCAA Division I program in the Southland Conference.

Cunningham said in a telephone interview that he applied for the job soon after it came open in the first week of March.

He said he had preliminary talks with members of the UIW search committee, headed by athletic director Brian Wickstrom.

Subsequently, he was invited to the campus.

“Really, it all happened pretty fast,” Cunningham said. “I’m just really grateful for the opportunity, excited to get to work.”

Cunningham played for Gene Keady at Purdue for three seasons through 2001.

It’s the first Division I head coaching job for Cunningham, 40, from Ogden Dunes, Indiana.

In the past three years, his teams at Carroll dominated with a combined 80-22 record and back-to-back Frontier Conference titles.

Cunningham took over a program in 2013 that finished with only two victories the previous season.

He won nine games in his first year and then followed with records of 18-11, 23-10, 29-6 and 28-6.

The Saints reached the NAIA tournament in each of the past three years.

Cunningham will replace Ken Burmeister at UIW, which is still a program in transition.

In 2013-14, UIW embarked on a move from Division II and the Lone Star Conference to Division I and the Southland.

The Cardinals posted three straight winning records to start the transition but have since fallen on hard times.

Two years ago, UIW fell to 12-17. This past season, with the program eligible to compete for both the Southland and NCAA tournaments for the first time, the Cardinals dropped to 7-21.

At one point, they lost 17 games in a row. Ultimately, UIW fell short of the eight-team, SLC tournament, finishing tied for 11th at 2-16.

Quotable

From new UIW head coach Carson Cunningham:

“It’s thrilling to join the University of the Incarnate Word — a school with a wonderful mission and super-dynamic academics — as its next head men’s basketball coach,” Cunningham said. “I’d like to thank AD Dr. Brian Wickstrom and the hiring committee for the opportunity to join such an impressive athletic program; one that is positioning itself for a bright future.”

From former Purdue coach Gene Keady:

“I’m very happy for Carson. He was fun to be around and very intelligent as a player. I’ve visited him at Carroll in Montana twice and really liked his program. I’m excited to follow UIW now, and I’m happy for him and his family.”