Friday, February 5, 2010

It's at New Mexico State on Saturday night

No one -- well, at least those not certifiably consumed by fan-dom -- understands that New Mexico State lives on its offensive firepower. When in the midst of a free-flowing streak, it's quite the sight to behold -- unless you are a defender or an opposing coach. Louisiana Tech found that out the hard way the other night in a 91-77 loss -- in Ruston at that -- to the Aggies. The 91 markers were 20 above what LT usually allows.

But there are obviously other aspects to basketball -- defending, rebounding and possession efficiency among quite the number -- that aren't as enjoyable as participatory actions as shooting the rock. When New Mexico State loses, it usually because of faltering on the backboards (the Aggies are last in the WAC in rebounding margin) or allowing an opponent to find the bottom of the net a bit too often or carelessness with the rock.

But here's a portion of an article about the Aggies of late:

Recent roll has seen Aggies win 10 of 12
Teddy Feinberg, Las Cruces Sun-News Sports Editor

You wouldn't expect to hear it from a team ranked last in the Western Athletic Conference in points allowed per game.

But the New Mexico State Aggie men's basketball team believes one of the main reasons it has won 10 of its last 12 games, including six of its first eight WAC contests, is because of its defense.

"Just having a defensive mindset," junior forward Wendell McKines said. "Having our buckets come off the defensive end. Overall we're playing harder, playing together."

Head coach Marvin Menzies said that despite surrendering 78.7 points per game, the Aggies have improved on the defensive end of the floor as the season has gone along. And part of their offensive success — the team is averaging 77.7 points per contest, third best in the conference — is because of their defensive efforts.

"I think our defensive stats are a little misleading," Menzies said. "It's easy to lie with statistics. You can say, well, we're last in the conference in points given up. But we're also turning people over a lot more, we're making people play uncomfortable in terms of the type of pressure we're applying. They're scoring, but we're scoring more right now. Last time I checked, that's how the game gets measured."

During the Aggies recent run of success — which has spanned more than a month — the team has turned the ball over less and held its own in the rebounding department.

After experiencing double-digit turnover numbers in 17 of their first 18 games of the season — including 31 against New Mexico and 20 against UCLA early in the year — the Aggies have committed nine, six and eight turnovers in their past three contests.

"Guys are used to playing with each other and are more in sync with each other," Menzies said. "Your early-season woes, they're always going to exist. It's a matter of whether you can weather the storm. Cutting the turnovers down, as far as the overall emphasis of taking care of the ball, making 100 percent passes, not gambling, we identified them as a problem early, addressed it and, as a a result, the players are reaping the benefits of taking care of the pill..."

Here's an excerpt of our game report from the 93-84 Spartan home win on January 23:

Mac Peterson led the scoring for San Jose State with 25 points on 6-8 three-point shooting, plus seven made free throws. His point total was a career high. Adrian Oliver was close by with 22. Jahmar Young led the southern Aggies with 34 points, also a career high. Jonathan Gibson contributed 19 but it took 20 shots for him to reach that total.

All Dickens references aside, it was the tale of two halves.

New Mexico State came out warm and evolved into hot as getting good and unattended looks at the basket produced a 41-32 halftime lead. The Aggies led 23-21 with 7:25 remaining and went on 16-point scoring run to widen the gap to 39-21. But the Spartans closed strong to reduce it to nine, with a late Peterson trey and an Oliver and-1 three-point play playing big factors.

What worked particularly well for Coach Marvin Menzies' squad in the initial 20 minutes was dribble-drive penetration by forward Wendell McKines, who would draw the attention of multiple defenders and then kick the ball out primarily to an open Young or Gibson. But for whatever reason or reasons, that element of the Aggie arsenal disappeared in the second half. It also appeared that New Mexico State didn't look much inside until 6 or so minutes remained in the first half.

As the game tightened in the second 20 minutes and with the Spartans pulling ahead, the Aggies seemingly ran their offensive sets less and less, relying more on individual efforts and quick shots.

But that took a while. Robert Owens gave San Jose State its first second half lead at 57-56 with a top-of-the-key trey at the 12:30 mark. A Gibson three-pointer then put New Mexico State back ahead. But SJSU retook the lead 61-60 on an Oliver three-pointer from the left corner.

With 6:53 left, Young scored an and-1 three-point play to bring the Aggies to within one at 68-67. Young later got another basket on a layup but the Spartans barraged the Aggies during that time period with a Justin Graham layup, a Peterson trey, a Chris Oakes dunk off a pass from Peterson and yet another Peterson three-pointer. The latter score made it 78-69 in favor of San Jose State with 4:40 on the clock.

Oakes was intentionally fouled by Hamidu Rahman at the 1:59 mark and made both free throws to set the score at 84-73.

After that, it was a Spartan parade to the foul line sandwiched around three Young treys.

Overall, SJSU shot 56.4% from the floor and went 12-20 from long distance. New Mexico State took 16 more shots but made three less and ended up at 39.4% for the game. 38 of the Aggies 71 shot attempts were three-pointers.

San Jose State was credited with 23 assists.

The excellent Spartan shooting, especially in the second half, was the result of very solid spacing and crisp passing in the frontcourt.

NMSU did win the turnover battle, 15 to 6. The Aggies utilized a three-quarter court press for most of the game, gaining some turnovers but the outcome more a whittling away of the time on the Spartan shooting clock.

Remarkably, San Jose State scored 61 second half points (to 43 for New Mexico State), close to doubling its total of the first 20 minutes.

The NMSU WAC Schedule to date

Jan 02 Utah State 55 - 52 (W)
Jan 04 Nevada 67 - 77 (L)
Jan 09 @ Boise State 88 - 85 (W)
Jan 11 @ Idaho 75 - 72 (W)
Jan 16 Fresno State 86 - 77 (W)
Jan 21 @ Hawaii 71-69 (W)
Jan 23 @ San Jose State 84 - 93 (L)
Jan 30 @ Louisiana Tech 91 - 77 (W)

The Aggie Starting Quintet

6-foot-11 Hamidu Rahman - he is blossoming, having scored 22 points (10-15 shooting) and grabbed 12 boards (seven offensive) versus Magnum Rolle on January 30

6-foot-6 Wendell McKines - expect a double-double, with maybe a trey in the mix

6-foot-5 Jahmar Young - he possesses a shooting range best described as long, longer and longest and he can create his own shot plus shoot over most defenders

6-foot-1 Jonathan Gibson - Gibson didn't shoot well the last time against SJSU -- will that repeat or not?

6-foot-1 Hernst LaRoche - we see him as the best point in the WAC at delivering the ball with the fewest blips

The Cavalry

6-foot-8 Troy Gillenwater - this will be his first game of the season so how much does he play and what does he produce? Gillenwater certainly provides an upgrade of the frontcourt talent coming off the bench -- he averaged 12 ppg. and 5 rpg. as a frosh

6-foot-5 Gordo Castillo - he is a three-point marksman, period -- best in the role of catch-and-shoot -- he scored 17 points against LA TECH, going 5-6 from three-point range

6-foot-5 Tyrone Watson - he brings energy, hustle and muscle to the floor

6-foot-5 Kelly Merker - a walk-on whose role is to work hard and commit zero mistakes while giving one of the starters a breather

7-foot-0 Abdoulaye N'doye - he is making progress as a freshman

The Aggie roster, by position

Tray Britt G 6-3 195 Sr.
Gordo Castillo G 6-5 197 Jr.
Makhtar Diop G 6-6 183 So. (Senegal)
Jonathan Gibson G 6-1 171 Sr.
Hernst Laroche G 6-1 170 So. (Canada)
Jahmar Young G 6-5 180 Jr.

Troy Gillenwater 6-8 234 So.
Robert Lumpkins F 6-7 191 Jr.
Wendell McKines F 6-6 224 Jr.
Kelly Merker F 6-4 190 Sr.
Bandja Sy F 6-8 210 Fr. (France)
Tyrone Watson F 6-5 225 Fr. (Canada)
B.J. West F 6-11 220 Fr.

Abdoulaye N'doye C 7-0 215 Fr. (Senegal)
Hamidu Rahman C 6-11 245 So.

What To Watch For

- Gillenwater absolutely 'ups' the Aggie talent level -- that's indisputable -- but who loses minutes due to his availability and will that be a smooth transition or a wrinkly onee?

- It's hard to imagine that the Spartans will enjoy a +17 shooting percentage over the Aggies again, plus it's a road game, so how does San Jose State 'make up' for being at a lesser advantage?

- We offer this guarantee or your money back: the Aggies will not hoist 38 three-point attempts (53.5% of their shots) -- at least not while Coach Marvin Menzies is alive and on the bench

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