Aggies take national recognition into UTEP rivalry
BY MARTY RACINE
For the Bulleitn
At 12-2, the New Mexico State Aggies on Dec. 27 had a better record than 11 teams in each of the two major national polls — the AP Top 25 and USA Today’s Coaches Poll.
But they remain unranked, if not unrecognized: They did receive one vote in the coaches’ poll, comprised of 32 coaches at Division I institutions.
The Aggies on Friday (Dec. 30) ride a 10-game winning streak into the Battle of I-10 rematch with Texas El-Paso at the Pan American Center, where they have yet to lose this season. UTEP will attempt to avenge an earlier 11-point loss to the Aggies in El Paso. Tipoff is 7 p.m. (KXPZ 99.5 FM).
The Miners are 2-9, including eight straight losses, but the record is somewhat misleading. Among their defeats are a one-point loss to New Mexico in Albuquerque and a two-point loss to Northern Arizona. They lost by five to UC-Irvine, which took the Aggies to overtime at the Pan Am Center 11 days ago.
The Miners are led in scoring by Omega Harris (17.1 ppg), Dominic Artis (14.5) and Matt Willms (10.9). Artis also leads in rebounding (6.5) and assists (82 total).
The Aggies feature balanced scoring, with five players averaging in double figures, topped by Ian Baker’s 14.6 points per game. Two players who started the season as reserves, Braxton Huggins and Jemerrio Jones, are also among the leading scorers.
Jones (8.0 rpg) and Eli Chuha (7.9) are New Mexico State’s rebounding leaders.
After UTEP, NMSU begins Western Athletic Conference play Jan. 5 at Missouri-Kansas City.
Rebounding and defense have been Aggies’ trademarks the past several seasons. Turnovers, however, remain a problem. They committed just seven against UC-Irvine, which helped them overcome a poor night of shooting to escape in overtime. In the next game, against Eastern New Mexico Dec. 27, they reverted to form, throwing the ball away 18 times.
Yet, Tuesday’s 84-50 win over the Greyhounds at Pan Am continued the winning streak. Baker led the scoring for NMSU with 18 points. Chuha and Johnathon Wilkins each pulled down nine rebounds.
Throughout their run, NMSU has faced some challenges in the young season. Last spring, the team lost its best player to the pros (Pascal Siakam, averaging 5.3 points per game for Toronto); Paul Weir is in his first year as head coach; the roster has only one senior (Baker); and starting guard Sidy N’Dir has been sidelined nearly a month with an ankle injury. N’Dir last played Dec. 3, scoring 18 points in a 93-85 defeat of Long Beach State.