By Albert Luna
The New Mexico State Aggies have picked up right where they left off from last season it appears, with new faces filling in similar roles.
The Aggies garnered their first win of the season as they took on Houston Baptist University on Friday night in the Pan American Center. The game served as the home and season opener for the Aggies.
This game marked the beginning of one chapter, yet also the closing of another one, as before the game they were formally recognized for last year’s accomplishments. The players celebrated a 2014-2015 WAC conference championship, as well with yet another NCAA tournament appearance by raising new banners commemorating the occasion.
However, once the pregame festivities ended, there was a game to be won.
The home team jumped out to an aggressive start to their season, with Matt Taylor immediately scoring on the opening possession after won the tip. The Aggies jumped to a quick 13-3 lead, which was capped by an Ian Baker left-handed score and the foul.
However, Houston Baptist was able to find some life of their own, and it came in the form of the three-pointer.
The Huskies found the bottom of the net on four of their first six to close the gap at one point to just eight, 29-21, forcing Coach Marvin Menzies to call a timeout.
“I thought that other than those initial defense, we played hard and well tonight,” Menzies says.
The Aggies tightened up the three-point defense the rest of the half, allowing only one three in the final 11 minutes of the first half.
“We came out wanting to play defense first and play hard, and I think the guys did that today,” Siakam says.
Offensively, the Aggies got a big boost from their bench in the first half, which was highlighted by the offensive play of guards Rene Esparza and Rashawn Browne. Esparza, a transfer from New Mexico Junior College, dished out four assists, including two for three-pointers, and also to Siakam that set up a crowd-energizing slam.
The Juárez native also connected on 2-5 shots for five points. For Browne, the primary backup point guard led the team in scoring, looking very comfortable in his first collegiate game after sitting out last season as a redshirt.
“I thought that Rashawn stepped up when Ian got in some foul trouble and played his game,” says Menzies.
The Toronto native connected on every shot he put up, going 3-3 from the floor while also collecting three boards and three assists. Siakam also chipped in a quiet six points and five rebounds. Menzies says right now his staff is just trying to see what they have.
“We’re still kind of evaluating and players are playing to show what they got so they could hopefully garner some more minutes,” he says.
The half ended with the Aggies up, 51-33. The teams headed into the break with NMSU leading in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage as a team. The second half followed much of the tone of its predecessor, with New Mexico State overpowering the Huskies on both ends.
The Aggies called a timeout to bring in some new substitutions at the 14:05 mark, which saw the Aggies leading by 20 points, 60-40. Siakam achieved a double-double in less than 25 minutes of playing time early in the second half.
The second half also proved to be Siakam’s half, reminding people why he was voted preseason WAC MVP. The Cameroon native had a stellar second half, with three crowd-raising dunks to go with two separate pairs of and-ones. The power forward sat with six minutes to go for the remainder of the game, with 20 points and five rebounds in the second half alone, outscoring the entire Houston Baptist team in the process.
Siakam finished the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds while going 9-14 from the floor, and also chipping in two blocks. The Huskies threw in the towel from there, resting their starters as both teams cleared the benches for the final four minutes of play. The Aggies took the decisive victory, 91-69, improving their record to 1-0 on the very early season.
Looking ahead, NMSU will now have its first test of the season as instate rival and historically good UNM comes into town on Sunday night. This game is expected to draw more fans than in the past due to it previously being mostly during the winter break.
“It is going to be nice to have the fans here and hopefully we can play well,” Baker says.
A win would certainly look nice on the team’s résumé, should they repeat the success they had last year, but Menzies says he is not worried about that for now.
“We have to prepare for a big instate rival and have to play up to expectations,” he says.
NMSU is back in action on Sunday at 7 p.m. versus UNM.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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