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California Baptist Beats New Mexico State and Other Thoughts from Conference Openers

Reagan Lee/CBU Athletics

Yes, the beginning of the title is accurate. California Baptist beat New Mexico State in its first-ever Western Athletic Conference game. And the impressive thing is that the Lancers led from start to finish. There weren’t any lead changes nor was the score ever tied. Pretty impressive for a team playing its first year at the NCAA Division I level.

Here are some thoughts from Thursday night’s WAC openers.

California Baptist has Potential Player of the Year Candidate

Most media members and coaches picked GCU forward Alessandro Lever as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year. It’s probably because nobody knew California Baptist guard Milan Acquaah.

The 6-3 guard out of Bakersfield played all 40 minutes on Thursday night and scored a game-high 36 points for the Lancers. Acquaah was 10-19 from the field and a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line. The sophomore guard also pulled down seven rebounds. The career night from Acquaah helped CBU pick up its fifth straight win and first-ever win in the WAC. 

Acquaah came into Thursday night leading the WAC in scoring at 22.2 points per game. He improved that mark to 23.1 points on Thursday night. Here are the crazy stats – 46.4 percent shooting from the field, 44.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and 83.8 percent from the free throw line. Acquaah is scoring a lot of points but he is also efficient with it. CBU will rely heavily on its Player of the Year candidate and, after Thursday night, it looks like Acquaah is up to the challenge.

Winning on the Road will be EXTREMELY Difficult

I said it last night while watching the California Baptist-New Mexico State game but it rang true even more as the night wore on. Just ask Utah Valley, Seattle and New Mexico State how difficult Thursday night was. UVU was on a 5-game winning streak and had won three straight road games including a win at Fresno State. But, the Wolverines couldn’t find their offensive flow and lost by 11 at Grand Canyon.

California Baptist guard Milan Acquaah had a career-high 36 points to help the Lancers knock off New Mexico State on Thursday. Photo by Reagan Lee/CBU Athletics.

New Mexico State trailed from start to finish against the newcomers to Division I basketball. Seattle led one time, by two points, early in the first half against CSU Bakersfield before the ‘Runners took control in an impressive win at the Icardo Center. 

That means that the top-3 teams in the WAC coming into Thursday, all lost on the road. Yes, all that really matters is winning three games in March. However, winning the WAC regular season title is pretty darn important to these teams. So, that regular season championship will most likely be decided by teams that can snag a road win here and there. On Thursday night, New Mexico State, UVU and Seattle all took a step in the wrong direction and shook up the WAC for a few days.

The Western Athletic Conference is Exciting to Watch 

Coming into Thursday, three teams in the WAC had 10 or more wins. After Thursday night, that number still stands at three. However, two teams now have nine wins and two others have eight wins. In total, six of nine teams have a winning record in the WAC. 

And, if you were paying attention, California Baptist absolutely belongs in this conference. New Mexico State might not agree with that assessment but it is true. And there is no invincibility from any teams in the 2018-19 version of the WAC. Yes, Seattle, UVU and New Mexico State all had 11-plus wins coming into Thursday night and looked like locks to win their respective WAC openers. But, like it has been said before, that’s why they play the games. Keep a close eye on this conference all season long. You might just be in for some surprises, especially after what happened Thursday night in Riverside, Bakersfield and Phoenix. 


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