NMSU prepping for big WAC test from Idaho
New Mexico State made a statement Thursday night. Now, coach Marvin Menzies must find out how much that statement will resonate Saturday.
The Aggies (12-5, 2-0 Western Athletic Conference) play host to Idaho (9-8, 2-1) at the Pan American Center in a suddenly key league matchup. NMSU got through its first stiff conference test Thursday, using a 34-14 run over the final 13-plus minutes of the game to pummel defending WAC champion Utah State 80-60 in Las Cruces.
NMSU had one of its most impressive victories of the season against Utah State, scoring 52 points in the paint, dishing out 14 assists and committing just six turnovers. New Mexico State, however, already has enjoyed big victories early this season -- at New Mexico and vs. UTEP to start the season 5-0 -- only to follow up with a stretch of four losses in five games.
"We playing good basketball during conference play, which is important," Menzies said. "We've got the guys doing the right things, taking advantage of what the defense is giving you at that time. We can't go around and play hot-dogging."
The Vandals have an effective inside-out game, with guards Deremy Geiger and Stephen Madison able to hit from long range to open the inside game for Kyle Barone. The 6-foot-10 center had 13 points and 15 rebounds against Louisiana Tech, and Geiger and Madison combined for 9-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.
"They're playing really well right now," Menzies said of the Vandals. "They're shooting the ball really, really well, so we're going to have our hands full."
The Aggies, however, may have an ace in the hole. Veteran play-by-play radio announcer Jack Nixon will be broadcasting his 1,000th game when NMSU plays host to Idaho, and Menzies likely will include that in his notes to the players in telling them how special Saturday's game is.
-- Sensing his team had more to give than the 34-34 halftime
score against Utah State indicated Thursday night, coach Marvin Menzies
admitted that he used intermission to try to light a fire underneath his
"We had a very spirited halftime talk about protecting the house and
pride and what it means to be an Aggie," Menzies said. "We got off the
basketball base and talked about heart and effort and the battles within
the game that need to be won in order to win the war."
The Aggies have needed some motivation at times during the season.
First came four losses in a five-game stretch over 17 days in November
and December. They didn't show up in the rematch against New Mexico at
home after beating the Lobos on the road early in the season, and they
nearly suffered an upset loss at Cal State Bakersfield. Menzies knows
his fire-and-brimstone speeches eventually will lose their
effectiveness; he has to hope his team plays up to its potential night
in and night out the rest of the way.
-- New Mexico State has moved on from starting sophomore guard Christian Kabongo, with coach Marvin Menzies giving him a release from scholarship last week.
The Aggies won their first two games without him, but Kabongo's athleticism and ability to get into the lane at virtually any time was seen as a key to a potential NMSU run at the WAC title. He averaged 14.6 points in 11 games for the Aggies this season.
His replacement in the lineup is freshman Daniel Mullings, but point guard Hernst Laroche has to pick up some of the scoring slack, and more pressure goes to the talented frontcourt of Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman.
"I am disappointed to lose Christian at this point in our season," coach Marvin Menzies said in a statement. "He is a tremendously talented player who has shown a lot of growth in his time here. However, I agree that a fresh start somewhere else may be the best thing for him right now. He has a very bright future, and I wish him nothing but the best."
Mullings does seem to have a bright future, too, scoring a career-high 21 points in a 73-72 win at Cal State Bakersfield on Jan. 2. He had eight points and 10 rebounds (as well as four turnovers) in a conference-opening 83-73 win at Louisiana Tech on Jan. 7.
Mullings, from Toronto, had played some backup minutes behind Laroche earlier in the season before having to replace Kabongo at shooting guard.
"Growing up, I used to play point guard because I was short," the 6-foot-2 Mullings told the Las Cruces Sun-News. "I'm still short, but after I got into high school, I took over the two spot. I'm still familiar at the one."
Kabongo released a statement through the university when he was released from his scholarship last week with his intent to transfer.
"I am grateful for the chance to come to New Mexico State and getting to be an Aggie," Kabongo said. "I loved my time here and will always cheer for this team. But right now it is best to find a new opportunity and get a fresh start where I can continue working on being the player and person I want to be. For those I have disappointed I am sorry, and I hope all my teammates have a great season. I know they will."
-- With its 83-73 victory at Louisiana Tech on Jan. 7, New Mexico State leads the all-time series against the Bulldogs 13-3. NMSU has won the past five games in the series.
-- Entering the week, New Mexico State had made more free throws (379) than any other WAC team had attempted, which is a testament to the Aggies' attacking style and their athleticism in terms of being able to get to the hoop. NMSU had attempted 566 free throws through 16 games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 78.3 -- New Mexico State's scoring average through games of Jan. 7, leading the WAC in that category.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The way the conference is set up right now on paper, the guys that do well on the road are going to be the ones that end up rising to the top." -- Coach Marvin Menzies, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY MATCHUPS: New Mexico State's pressure defense has to take the lead against an Idaho team that entered the week ranked last in the WAC in turnover margin (minus-3.44 per game). The Aggies' task is to make the game frenetic and not let the Vandals settle into a half-court game. Led by post Kyle Barone and some sharp-shooting guards, Idaho can be deadly when it is allowed to run its offense.
FUTURES MARKET: Even after the Aggies' depth took a hit with the midseason transfer of SG Christian Kabongo, coach Marvin Menzies said he wouldn't remove any planned redshirts. Junior big man B.J. West is being saved for next season (when Hamidu Rahman and Wendell McKines are no longer around), while sophomore guard KC Ross-Miller (a transfer from New Orleans who is eligible) and freshman guard Eric Weary also are sitting out.
-- Senior F Wendell McKines recorded his 10th double-double of the season in the win over Utah State, scoring 13 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. He's averaging 18.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and his work on both ends of the floor picks up the energy level for his team. He entered a 51-48 game with 12 minutes left, and NMSU proceeded to go on a 19-4 run over the next eight minutes. McKines got a key offensive rebound that led to a Bandja Sy three-point play that stretched NMSU's lead to 61-51 and gave the home team firm control of the game.
-- Freshman G Daniel Mullings scored 17 points Thursday, continuing his hot play since being inserted into the starting lineup. Mullings has scored in double figures in three of NMSU's last four games, and he is shooting 60 percent during that four-game span (21 for 35). His contributions have become crucial ever since Christian Kabongo left the program, leaving the Aggies with a seven-man rotation. NMSU will be better able to compete into February and March with a depleted rotation if Mullings can continue to take some of the scoring pressure off McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman. The best news of all is that Mullings should get better each time out as he gains experience.
-- Freshman G Terrel de Rouen suffered a torn ACL in the home win over McNeese State on Dec. 21 and is out for the season. He's a local kid from Las Cruces who appeared in half of the team's first 12 games, averaging 2.2 points and getting some minutes as backup point guard.