NMSU notebook: Taking momentum to Hawaii

NMSU notebook: Taking momentum to Hawaii

Published Jan. 20, 2012 1:01 p.m. ET

The Aggies were able to get in a little workout Thursday night before they make the long trek to Hawaii for a Saturday game against the Warriors.

New Mexico State (14-5, 4-0 Western Athletic Conference) jumped out to a big early lead against San Jose State (6-12, 0-4) and cruised to a 79-63 victory Thursday in San Jose. Wendell McKines scored 24 points and Hamidu Rahman scored 15 of his 20 in the first half as the Aggies shot 52 percent for the game and outrebounded the Spartans 42-29.

NMSU now will carry a great deal of confidence heading to Honolulu. Hawaii is 10-8, 2-2 in WAC play, after losing at home Thursday to Louisiana Tech.

"I thought the way that we played tonight is a good precursor, at least in the way of confidence," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "Mentally, it's such a change to maintain a concentrated effort by all the guys and stay positive. Winning is a great recipe to make that happen."

The Aggies held the Spartans to 37.3 percent shooting (25 for 67) and just 20.7 percent (6 for 29) from 3-point territory. Only Idaho has shot better than 40 percent against New Mexico State in the past four games, and the Aggies have won six straight since a disappointing 89-69 loss to New Mexico at the Pan American Center on Dec. 28.

"I thought we did a really good job challenging their 3-point shots, and as long as you're challenging their shots, that's likely to reduce their field-goal percentage," Menzies said.

The Aggies' ability to defend the perimeter will be a factor in stopping Hawaii's leading scorer, guard Zane Johnson. Johnson averages 15.1 points per game but shoots just 37.9 percent from the floor. He's almost as effective from outside the arc (36.4 percent) as inside.

Hawaii, however, will challenge NMSU inside with the tandem of Vander Joaquim and Joston Thomas, who collectively average 26.2 points per game. Thomas shoots 56.1 percent from the floor, while Joaquim is at 51.8 percent.

New Mexico State, which entered the week leading the WAC with a
rebounding margin of plus-7.4, counters with the inside combo of power forward Wendell
McKines and center Hamidu Rahman. The Aggies have more depth and will have a
clear advantage if they can get Hawaii's bigs in foul trouble.


-- A big part of the reason New Mexico State has played well of late on
defense is that the team is playing much better on offense. The Aggies
are starting to get the ball to the scorers in their preferred spots
more often; NMSU has shot no worse than 49.2 percent from the floor in
its last four games. The team also has been able to get up and down the
court and find more open looks.

None of the Aggies' first four WAC opponents has been able to slow the
pace and force them to score consistently from a half-court set. NMSU is
one of the more athletic teams in the WAC and is getting better at
dictating the tempo of the game.

-- Just two seasons ago, New Mexico State was in love with the 3-point shot, shooting more (by far) than any team in the WAC. Those days are gone.

Two seasons ago, the Aggies featured guards Jonathan Gibson and Jahmar Young, who combined for 22.8 3-point attempts per game. Now, NMSU is all about getting the ball inside and dominating the paint. That works, too.

Here's an example: The Aggies had a 38-21 rebounding edge against Idaho on Jan. 14, when they took only 10 shots from behind the arc in an 80-68 victory. New Mexico State's focus on getting inside -- either by the pass or through guards driving -- resulted in 32 free throw attempts, 20 more than the Vandals.

That also is emblematic of this New Mexico State team, one that doesn't settle for jumpers, even against a zone, like Idaho tried. The Aggies, through Jan. 14, had made more throws (419) than anybody in the WAC had attempted.

"We went to our strength, which was inside," forward Tyrone Watson told the Las Cruces Sun-News after beating Idaho. "They allowed us to shoot, but we still penetrated and attacked. We just were more dominant inside."

NMSU has emerged as the primary threat in the conference to Nevada -- both teams have wins over Utah State. The Aggies scored 52 points in the paint in their 80-60 win over Utah State.

"We have strengths," coach Marvin Menzies said in the Sun-News. "And a lot of our weaknesses are things that can be improved on."

-- New Mexico State had 18 turnovers against Idaho on Jan. 14 after committing just six against Utah State. The game before, NMSU had 20 turnovers at Louisiana Tech. Coach Marvin Menzies has made ball security an emphasis in practice, hoping to get a more consistent performance in that aspect of the game.

"The treadmill is an amazing tool when used properly," he told the Las Cruces Sun-News. "The guys were punished severely in practice when they turned the ball over. I think they got the message. It was just a matter of concentrating and making it an emphasis."

-- New Mexico State has often battled Utah State for WAC supremacy in recent seasons. NMSU's 20-point win over the "other" Aggies on Jan. 12 was its largest margin in the rivalry since the 2007-08 season, when NMSU posted a 100-70 victory.

-- New Mexico State improved to 20-3 in the series with Idaho with its victory on Jan. 14. The Aggies are 12-0 vs. the Vandals in Las Cruces.

BY THE NUMBERS: 66.8 percent -- Free-throw percentage for New Mexico State through games of Jan. 14, ranking only sixth in the WAC. While the Aggies shoot far more free throws than any team in the league (419 of 627), they are leaving a few points on the table each game by not making a higher percentage.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "As long as we play hard and play within ourselves, I feel as though the sky is the limit." -- Senior F Wendell McKines, as quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News.


-- Senior C Hamidu Rahman had a big first half Thursday against the struggling Spartans and finished the game with a season-high 20 points. He was 7 for 7 from the floor and helped keep San Jose State from getting many good looks in the paint. NMSU knows Rahman will give the team an interior force on the defensive end, but if he can continue to provide offensive production -- Rahman has scored in double figures in each of his last four games and in eight of his last 10 -- the Aggies will be tough to beat in the WAC. With New Mexico State's limited bench, Rahman's dominance in games against the league's also-rans can help the Aggies conserve some energy for when they need it most in March.

-- New Mexico State was able to find eight minutes for freshman G D.J. Lewis on Thursday night. He went 0 for 1 from the floor and had one rebound and one turnover. Coach Marvin Menzies said Lewis was trying too hard to execute the offense without noticing the defense and threw the ball away. Lewis, however, settled down and played well, giving Menzies hope that he could be of use to NMSU as conference play wears on. It was only Lewis' second game of the season.