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Aggie basketball undaunted by injuries, losses


The New Mexico State Men’s Basketball team ended 2023 on a positive note with a win over California Baptist 66-61. This comes after a roller coaster first half of the season with close losses, injuries and a completely new team trying to find their footing. 

Head coach Jason Hooten and his team ride into the new year with a mark of 6-9. That record doesn’t diminish Hooten’s outlook on the year, though. 

“I think you just always feel like those are going to all even out,” Hooten said about his team’s close losses this season. “I see some improvement in some areas that I thought we drastically needed it in, I think we’re heading in the right direction and now you have arguably the toughest 16 games left … in conference [play].”

Some of the areas that needed improvement, Hooten said, were on the defensive side of the ball, rebounding and execution on offense.

“It’s uncomfortable for some guys, just trying to get out of that … comfort zone,” Hooten said. “And then second of all … we haven't been together a lot. A lot of these guys were not here this summer, and then we had a lot of injuries in the fall — over the last maybe month has been the first time we’ve had our whole team together.”

Now that the season is in full swing, he said players are learning where they should be defensively and what spots they need to rotate to when needed. 

Rebounding-wise, the Aggies are on an upward trend, with their previous games against Tulsa and CBU being their best rebounding games yet. NM State held CBU, a top offensive-rebounding team, to just eight offensive boards, while the Aggies outrebounded Tulsa 41-36. 

Execution on the offensive side has been trickier for NM State. Senior point guard Jordan Rawls has been hurt the whole season, playing with a torn shoulder labrum. Junior guard Jaylin Jackson-Posey has moved to that point guard rotation, where Hooten said he is now getting more comfortable. 

“I don’t think Posey is a natural point guard and he’s trying really hard to do what we need him to do; he’s better off the ball for sure,” Hooten said, and while Rawls is “running our team,” the injury has reduced his offensive power. “Our execution has got to continue to get better and a lot of that too, is just familiarity with me and familiarity with each other.” 

Hooten said Jackson-Posey has settled into more of a vocal leader since he’s taken up the point guard role. He also credited graduate student center Kaosi Ezeagu for being a consistent leader. 

The injury bug has continued to bite the program as Hooten confirmed newcomer senior forward Christopher Biekeu tore his Achilles tendon during his first game of the season Dec. 30 while playing CBU. Hooten added that senior guard Brandon Suggs has been dealing with a foot injury and isn’t quite 100 percent. 

“I think this time next year you’ll have a little more depth,” Hooten said, adding: “Right now our guys are fighting and they're learning how to get through some adversity and I think that’s going to pay dividends for us at the end of the year.” 

The focus now turns to conference play as NM State enters its first year into Conference-USA. First on the plate is Interstate 10 rival UTEP, as the Aggies were scheduled to host the Miners at the Pan American Center on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. 

Hooten said he coached against UTEP head coach Joe Golding back with their previous teams at Sam Houston and Abilene Christian, so he knows what kind of competition Golding’s team brings to the table. 

“Our guys are going to have to be ready,” Hooten said. “It’s going to be a battle — they’re well coached, they’re tough, they’re going to play hard and physical. Our teams probably mirror each other quite a bit; I told our guys it’s what you go to college for, to play against good teams that are well coached and that means something.” 

Hooten said the Aggies have a chance to start off C-USA play 1-0 and then get a week off to prepare for Florida International University, hoping to grab their first away game victory. 

Aggie basketball, Jason Hooten, Kaosi Ezeagu