New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – In The Pit
Tuesday: 7 p.m. (MT) -- New Mexico State at New Mexico
On The Air: ESPN3 (Internet Exclusive); 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
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By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
In a single word, nothing has changed about the New Mexico State Aggies’ core. They still have 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar and he has a nice supporting row of Aggie trees including 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe and 6-10 Renaldo Dixon.
The Lobos cut down those trees in Las Cruces. Can they repeat the performance in The Pit and get the sweep?
“They’re big,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. “They have a really good team. I think they are going to come in here and expect to win.”
It’s a difficult thing to step into The Pit and leave with a hoop victory. The Aggies probably are good enough to leave Albuquerque happy, but they have to change the way they played in Las Cruces – a 79-70 New Mexico win.
NMSU Coach Marvin Menzies was not happy with his Aggies’ performance in that loss. He didn’t like the emotion from his team. Simply put: not enough fire for a NMSU team defending its home turf against the in-state rival from up North.
On Tuesday night, the Aggies have to change a lot of things. They also have to figure out how to take one of the Lobos’ big three out of the scoring column in a big way. They did it in Cruces and still lost.
Neal’s big three is dangerous. The 6-9 Cameron Bairstow paces UNM with a 20.2 average. Kendall Williams is scoring at a 19.7 clip and 7-foot Alex Kirk has a 17.1 average.
It’s a difficult thing to take all three points of that triangle out of the UNM scoring charts. If you can cut into the stats of one of them, you have a chance. Kansas held Kirk to five points and five boards on Saturday and beat UNM by 17.
But not in The Pit.
Bairstow was a scoring thorn for the Aggies in Cruces. He hit 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting and burned the Aggies with his head fake and his drive. NMSU’s Nephawe told the Las Cruces Sun News that he now has a better feel for how to guard the shifty and tall Lobo.
“Playing against (Bairstow) the first game kind of helped me get a feel for how he played and what he wants to do,” Nephawe told the Cruces Sun News. “He wants to drive it against me.”
That might be Cruces strategy in The Pit, too – attack the rim. Menzies has an athletic bunch capable of driving to the hoop and forcing contact. The refs of college ball aren’t too forgiving of contact on drives. The Aggies have shot 402 free throws in their 13 games and their opponents have shot 296.
”We’re going to have to stay out of foul trouble,” said Coach Neal.
Menzies didn’t hold back any punches following his Aggies loss to New Mexico in the Pan American Center. He said the Lobos played better, but seemed more disappointed in why the Lobos played better. He said UNM played harder. He said his Aggies lacked the proper emotional intensity.
The Aggies have a chance at payback on Tuesday. They are coming off an 81-69 overtime win at Drake which pushed NMSU’s record to 8-5. The win snapped a four-game Aggie losing skid. The Lobos are 7-2 and coming off a loss to Kansas in Kansas City.
The Aggies flew from Drake directly to Albuquerque. NMSU lost to Gonzaga and Arizona after falling to the Lobos in Cruces.
Bhullar had 22 points and 12 boards at Drake and Nephawe had ten points and ten boards. Those are the inside numbers that Menzies likes to see. NMSU outscored Drake 14-2 in overtime and that’s a nice clutch finish to bring into The Pit.
The Lobos’ inside war against Bhullar will be interesting to watch. Bhullar weighs in at 355 pounds. Kirk and Bairstow should both get a shot at slowing down Bhullar, who is tough to stop when he gets position close to the rim. If you can push Bhullar out of the paint, he is less effective.
The Aggies obviously look for good inside play, but their top player is 6-2 Daniel Mullings, who has a 16.8 scoring average. DK Eldridge weighs in with a 10.7 average and shoots 44 percent from long range. The 7-5 Bhullar averages 7.5 boards and 6-10 Nephawe averages 6.9 boards.
The Aggies average 75.3 points a game and like to play with a little pace. The Lobos controlled the pace in Round One in Cruces.
“We played with really good tempo and really good execution,” said Neal of the win in Cruces. “I thought our guys played under control and we took good shots. I don’t think our team has put together a full game yet and I’m looking forward to that.”
A full game would include UNM’s big three having a hot night at the same time – plus better production from a few other Lobos, including Neal’s bench.
In Cruces, Williams had 24 points and Bairstow had 20 points. The Aggies shot 38.7 percent going 4-of-19 from 3-point range over a UNM zone. The Lobos outscored NMSU by 11 from the free-throw line. Kirk played only six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and finished with nine points and five boards. Mullins had 16 points and five turnovers.
The Lobos might be without guard Hugh Greenwood vs. NMSU as the Lobo is battling a wrist injury. Neal said it will be difficult to keep Greenwood off the Bob King Floor.
“I’m sure they are going to make changes and we’re going to do some subtle changes,” said Neal.