One Team All Green

Experience, Depth Key as New Mexico State Prepares for First Round of NCAA Tournament

Rob Gray

SALT LAKE CITY — For the second straight year, New Mexico State is in the NCAA Tournament. And for the second straight year, the Aggies get to face a Power 5 Conference opponent. But for Aggie head coach Chris Jans, something feels much different. Whether that is the experience of a year ago when the Aggies lost in the first round to Clemson, or the fact the Aggies are much deeper than a year ago, it is more business like in the approach to Thursday’s contest against the SEC Tournament champion Tigers.

“Winning the WAC Championship was fun,” Jans said. “It was awesome but it just felt different. It wasn’t as euphoric as it was last year being my first time at New Mexico State. I think this go around, we’ve got guys that have been with us and been coached by us that were here last year. And we’ve talked about how different it is … and I think having been in that position now and our players being able to educate our new guys, I’m hopeful that experience will help us this time around.”

Despite losing 2017-18 WAC Player of the Year Jemerrio Jones and All-WAC first team member Zach Lofton, NMSU has set a new single-season record for wins with 30 and won the WAC regular season and tournament titles for the third straight year. 

Those veterans that Jans will lean on include senior forward Eli Chuha and junior guard A.J. Harris. Chuha averages 9.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while Harris chips in 9.6 points per game and 3.4 assists.

The 2018-19 version of New Mexico State basketball isn’t about any superstar putting up huge numbers. It is a collective effort with only one player averaging in double figures for the Aggies. Terrell Brown averages 11.3 points per game to lead the Aggies. Seven other players average between five and nine points per game for a team that averages 78.1 points per game. 

“They don’t have any weaknesses,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “They can score it inside and out and they can rebound the ball and they can defend. If you get past one guy … they strip, rip, and take charges. They’re good. Personnel is important and they’ve got some tendencies and we’re on those tendencies.”

Two players that could be the x-factor for NMSU are Trevelin Queen and JoJo Zamora.

Trevelin Queen (20) could be an x-factor for New Mexico State in its first round game against Auburn on Thursday. Photo by Rob Gray.

Queen won WAC Tournament MVP honors after hitting six 3-pointers and scoring a game-high 27 points in the WAC Championship against Grand Canyon. The junior guard didn’t come onto the scene until Dec. 17 against Northern Colorado. And while the numbers don’t jump out at you, Queen is a player that has been an x-factor down the stretch for the Aggies..

“I’ve never had someone be eligible by Christmas,” Jans said. “He didn’t get here until late. I really didn’t think he was going to be able to get along … we were just trying to get him acclimated to our system. Then he becomes eligible and at that point we thought he could become our x-factor. You could see the talent, the size, the ability but how long would it take for him to adjust to us and what we’re trying to do. If you watch his progression … you can see the steady progression. As the season progressed, we knew he was capable of being that x-factor because he has the ability to score the ball, rebound the ball, and be a playmaker.”

Zamora has had his share of ups and downs but when the Utah transfer is on, the Aggies are dangerous. 

“You could argue that JoJo single-handedly won a couple of games for us,” Jans said. “He’s a streaky scorer. When he gets going, there’s nothing you can do about it. He scores in bunches. It sure is nice bringing someone off the bench that you know can change a game three or four shots.”

In a game of similar teams, the depth for NMSU could pay dividends. Auburn has attempted 1,052 3-pointers on the season making 396 of them. NMSU has made 319 3-pointers on the season. NMSU averages 78.1 points per game while Auburn averages 79.6. The Aggies allow 64.1 points while Auburn allows 68.1. New Mexico State averages 38.4 rebounds per game while Auburn averages 34.6. 

So, if you’re trying to determine who will win, don’t. 

“We have been the New Mexico State of the SEC,” Pearl said. “We play fairly similarly. So we go in and we play with 10 guys. And we fly around. And we turn you over. We shoot a lot of three’s. Not as good of a rebounding team as they are … But we haven’t played against a team like New Mexico State unless we went against ourselves. So, from that standpoint, it’s a tough matchup for us because there is nobody in our league that plays like them.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 11:30 MT and can be seen on TNT or heard on 99.5 FM. 

 

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