Commentary: Jans was the best option for Aggie Basketball

By: Derek Gonzalez

It is never ideal to lose a head men’s basketball coach at a Division I institution. Either the results were not there and a change in direction was needed, or the results were there and a university with bigger financial resources and facilities comes calling and plucks away a winning head coach.

Losing Paul Weir was a tough blow for the university and the men’s basketball program. But it was inevitable. Weir not only won games and set school records, but his demeanor and sophistication made him an attractive candidate for any university. The elephant in the room is who came calling for Weir. The University of New Mexico has fantastic facilities. The Pit is unique and when the Lobos are good, is a top-20 venue in the country. UNM Director of Athletics Paul Krebs nearly tripled Weir’s salary, and in the Mountain West Conference, the Lobos will have the chance to regional and national exposure. The 37-year-old Canadian native will have every opportunity to build UNM into a west coast power.

Already late in the process and without a substantial increase from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers as it relates to the base salary, NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia had to get creative and use well-developed relationships, and did both in the hiring of former Wichita State Associate Head Coach Chris Jans.

The market was not demanding of Jans as a head coach because of his mistake that cost him his job at Bowling Green. It was embarrassing to Jans, his family, and Bowling Green University, but Bowling Green, in just one year, had become a winner as a program who was not known for being a viable team in the Mid-American Conference. Jans took a 20-loss team into a 21-win team in just one year. Without his own players. Without any of his own recruits.

Now Jans come into a situation at NMSU where the team does not lack talent. Subtract Ian Baker, but add Ohio State transfer A.J. Harris and top-100 recruit L.J. Figueroa to a team that went 28-5. Moccia found not only an assistant coach who had run his own program before, but a successful one at that who appears to have learned from his mistake.

NMSU is a good job. The history, the Pan American Center, the warm weather and a beautiful campus makes it an attractive place for a high-level assistant looking for his first big break. Where NMSU falls short is in conference affiliation and money. Moccia walked into an unstable situation where his predecessor did not do enough to ensure that NMSU will be in a stable conference in the immediate future. Since Moccia took over, there has been very little movement in conference realignment. Moccia can only do so much at a university that does not put the emphasis it needs to financially in athletics.

Jans will take over a program that Moccia wants to see get tougher. Moccia saw first-hand what the program looks like when a head coach and his players captivate Las Cruces, as he played baseball at NMSU during the wonderful Neil McCarthy era. He spoke of it during the press conference that he wanted “tough dudes.” Remember Wichita State’s Final Four run in 2013 that Jans was a part of? Their motto was “play angry.”

Do not expect there to be any drop off from the Weir era to the Jans era.

But do not compare the two coaches, as their styles are completely different and they are two separate individuals. Obviously with where Weir is at now, that is what people will do. But keep this is mind. Weir has so much more to work with than Jans. They are not on the same playing field. Jans will bring out the best in the NMSU men’s basketball program, but that best may not be enough to be better than the Lobos. But that is fine. If Weir really hurt your feelings, the best way to get him back is to fill that Pan Am Center and make it the place he wanted it to be. Jans will give you every reason to.

Aggie Baseball sweeps Northern Colorado

By: Derek Gonzalez

The New Mexico State baseball team has continued their hot start in conference play with a three-game sweep of the Northern Colorado Bears this past weekend inside Presley Askew Field.

NMSU won game one 10-3 and followed the win with a 7-4 victory on Saturday. In the series finale, the Aggies jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead and never allowed the Bears to threaten in the 6-2 win.

Brent Sakurai led off the bottom of the first inning with a single against UNC pitcher Aaron Hamilton. Austin Botello was walked after Joey Ortiz popped out, and NMSU perfectly executed a double steal to put both runners in scoring position.

Dan Hetzel converted on a sacrifice fly to score Sakurai to break the seal on the scoring for the Sunday matinee, and Tristen Carranza slapped a single up the middle to score Botello to double the Aggie lead to 2-0.

Catcher Mason Fishback closed out the first-inning scoring with a three-run home run off the scoreboard in left-center field to open the lead to 5-0.

NMSU (26-15, 11-1 WAC) decided to use a staff day in the game, meaning they would use the entire bullpen and leave it up the scorekeeper’s discretion as to who to award the win to. Andy Frakes got his second-career start for the Aggies and did a fantastic job managing the game and using his defense to get outs.

“We talked about picking each other up, and sometimes you are not going to have it (production) at the plate so we will need to pitch well and vice versa, but what an effort by Frakes,” NMSU head coach Brian Green said. “He brought it and we absolutely had to have it. We got that run in the eighth (inning) and it gave us some space. It was a great game for us and a great weekend for us.”

Frakes went 4.0 innings pitched and allowed only one earned run in 48 pitches. The senior side-winder is used to being brought out of the bullpen in later innings, and adapted to a new role and flourished to keep the Aggies rolling in WAC play.

Matt McHugh came in relief of Frakes and went 3.1 innings pitched and got out of a couple jams as the Bears (15-22, 4-8 WAC) tried to claw back into the game.

“You have to be able to win games when you aren’t hitting and we did that today and I am fired up about that,” Green said. “It was a great efoort from our guys and it shows them that there are different ways to win.”

NMSU will host Grand Canyon in a three-game series this weekend that will ultimately decide the WAC regular season champion. The first game is Friday at 6 p.m. at Presley Askew Field.

Paul Weir departs for UNM

By: Derek Gonzales

When former New Mexico men’s basketball coach Craig Neal was fired just before midnight on March 31, 2017, the Lobos had their fair share of candidates that were attracted to the position. The Pit is one of the most unique venues in the country. UNM has plenty of support from Santa Fe along with a big base of boosters. Albuquerque is a lovely city. But one by one, things did not work out. Not with San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego or East Tennessee State University head coach Steve Forbes. After swinging and missing a few times, Krebs and his search committee focused their attention on a new candidate. This candidate was in his inaugural season as a Division I head basketball coach and led his program to a school-record 28 wins, including a win over Arizona State and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where his team led 3rd-seeded Baylor at the half.

The candidate was New Mexico State’s Paul Weir.

Krebs, who is on the NCAA Selection Committee, was assigned to study the Western Athletic Conference amongst others as a part of his duties for selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament. He caught plenty of New Mexico State basketball as he said at Paul Weir’s introductory press conference last week.

“I saw a team that played hard and played really good defense,” Krebs said in his opening statement. “A team that gave great effort every night and were very strong rebounding.”

Those qualities, along with an impressive interview by Weir with Krebs and the UNM search committee, earned the 37-year-old first-year collegiate head coach a six-year contract to move up I-25 and replace Neal as the Lobo’s head men’s basketball coach. It was an unprecedented move by Weir to go from one state school directly to its main in-state rival. The only other comparable move in modern college basketball was Rick Pitino’s move from Kentucky to Louisville, but a stint coaching the Boston Celtics in between those two schools softened the criticism.

“I was at New Mexico State for ten years and poured my heart and soul into the place,” Weir said as he donned a cherry and silver tie that would have almost any Aggie fan watching the press conference uncomfortable. “It was very successful. I started my family there, and I got degrees from there. It would have taken a lot to leave and this was that opportunity. It was too good to pass up. There are people back at New Mexico State who are disappointed in me and will never forgive me but this opportunity was too good to pass up.”

Weir is now the first basketball coach to serve as the head man for both of New Mexico’s Division I institutions. In his only season at NMSU, the Aggies went 28-6 overall (10th-most wins in NCAA history for a first-year Division I head coach) and 11-3 in WAC play. After ending the season with a trip to the Big Dance, NMSU ranked fifth in the country in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 29.4 percent from the field (UNM ranked 284th in this category, allowing teams to shoot 36.8 percent from 3).

The Aggies also ranked in the top 35 in block percentage (5th), rebounding margin (19th), scoring margin (19th), free throws (21st), rebounds per game (25th), offensive rebounds per game (27th), and free throw attempts (28th).

Weir does have ties to the previous two UNM regimes, as he served as the Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Iowa under former UNM head coach Steve Alford. Craig Neal was an assistant on that staff.

Financial Ramifications

During Weir’s press conference, Krebs said on more than one occasion that the buyout on Weir’s NMSU contract would be “in between Weir and NMSU.” UNM does not hold a contractual obligation to give NMSU any buy out compensation, and per NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia, “It is still my understanding that Weir owes NMSU $500,000.” (This is as of April 12)

“This is the business side of intercollegiate athletics, and though I am professionally disappointed in losing a great coach, I am also personally disappointed in losing a great friend,” Moccia said at a press conference almost 24 hours after Weir and UNM had theirs. “I want to thank him for his ten years of dedicated service to New Mexico State University. He helped produce one of the most successful seasons in the history of Aggie Basketball. As a friend, I wish him well…all but two days out of the year.”

Weir’s base salary for his only season at NMSU was $250,000. This upcoming season at UNM, he will earn a base salary of $625,000. A concern that has been sparked with this move is the state of NMSU’s finances, in the University as a whole and the athletic department. NMSU Athletics is mandated to pay back a debt to the University that was once $10 million. It has been cut to $4.3 million, and through payments of $890,000 this fiscal year, $970,000 next fiscal year, $1.63 million the following year, and $487,000 the year after that pays off the sum owed. Moccia reiterated the word “mandate,” to specify that his department MUST do what is asked by Carruthers. UNM also has a budget deficit in the athletic department, but on top of what they will pay Weir, they also will be paying Neal 24 installments over the next two years equaling $1 million.

Those mandated payments from athletics to the Universtiy would usually be money that amongst other places, could go towards coaching salaries. Moccia was asked about the type of contract he would be able to offer the next head coach, and it appears that Carruthers will not give Moccia increased financial wiggle room to make a more appealing offer than was given to Weir.

President Garrey Carruthers issued out a statement last week which said the following:

“This is an update to our campus community regarding the departure of our men’s head basketball coach Paul Weir to the University of New Mexico. We gave Paul Weir his first head coaching opportunity one year ago. We knew then, as we know now, he is a young, talented basketball coach who has enormous potential going forward in his career.”

Importantly, everyone should know we were proactive in our attempts to keep Coach Weir at NMSU. We knew we had good coach on our hands, and we also knew other universities would notice him, especially after the team rattled off 20 consecutive wins on their way to a 28-6 record. That’s why we started designing an improved bonus package for Coach Weir two to three weeks ago and the plan was shown to both him and his agent. Unfortunately, we never had an opportunity to finish the conversation.

We wish Coach Weir the best and a successful season next year, except for the two games against our NMSU Aggies.”

Incentive-based bonuses will not work going forward in keeping successful men’s basketball coaches. An increase in base salary is will what need to take place, and if an effort by Carruthers to increase Weir’s salary had been made, while probably not the $625,000 UNM offered, maybe Weir stays and waits for a better opportunity. A raise after a record-setting season was not too much to ask for.

“I want Aggie fans to know this,” Moccia stated as his attention shifted towards finances during the press conference. “Athletics has a mandate to balance its budget from campus every year. In my two full years here, we have done that. While we can bemoan what others have financially, to me, that is a tremendous waste of energy. What athletics can control is finding the best head coach that fits our financial means. The $250,000 base salary (Paul Weir’s NMSU salary) isn’t the ceiling, but it is getting close to it.”

Possible Candidates

NMSU is the only men’s basketball job in the nation that has a vacant position. It is mid-April, which is late in the hiring process, but the fact that Moccia is just a year removed from going through the same process will prove to be beneficial. The only candidate from last year’s job who got a head coaching job besides Weir was then-Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack, who has since been hired as the head man at UC-Santa Barbara. Moccia listed 11 qualities he is looking for in the next head coach. They are listed here:

* Ability to recruit quality, character, and talent that fits his staff’s style

* Focused on academics

* Have a tremendous work ethic

* Huge desire to win

* Be positive with the team

* Able to hire a staff that compliments his weaknesses

* Communicates well and directly with the team

* Ability to mentor individuals on and off the court

* Somebody that will instill toughness

* A coach who wants to be at New Mexico State

* Somebody who understands the role of being a head basketball coach and representing the program and department in the community and statewide

These are three candidates to keep an eye on going forward.

Reggie Theus (Current Cal-State Northridge head coach, former NMSU head coach from 2005-07)

This is a big name for most fans and students who remember the Theus era. In just two years, Theus turned around a program that was 6-24 the year before he arrived and won 16 games in his first year before winning 25 in year two and bolting for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The former NBA all-star is still revered by many in Las Cruces, but in four seasons at CS-Northridge, he has yet to have a winning season.

Ryan Miller (Current assistant at Texas Christian University)

Miller is known for being one of the top recruiters in the nation while working at TCU, UNLV, UNM, and Memphis. While at UNM, he was responsible for the recruitment of J.R. Giddens, Darington Hobson, Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow. He has won over 250 games as an assistant over 13 years.

Jesse Bopp (Current NMSU assistant coach)

Bopp has only been in Las Cruces one season, but has gained for the respect of most current players on the Aggie roster. A.J. Harris and Matt Taylor have advocated for Bopp to be promoted on social media, but Bopp is a bit young at just 33 years old. He possesses some of the qualities Weir showed as an assistant, being fiery and full of energy as well as a quality coach in terms of X’s and O’s.

National Sports: Tar Heels Redeem Themselves in Return to NCAA Championship

By: Derek E. Gonzales

April 4, 2016

It was of the most memorable moments in NCAA Basketball history. Philadelphia native Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbounds pass in the backcourt with 4.7 seconds left and found Kris Jenkins trailing for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Villanova Wildcats a 77-74 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2016 National Championship. It was the school’s first national championship since 1985 and gave head coach Jay Wright his first championship. As great of a moment as it was, it has a crushing blow to a UNC team who was in hot pursuit of head coach Roy Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater. Seniors Marcus Paige and Bryce Johnson played key roles for the Tar Heels, and Paige tied the game with a miraculous double-clutch 3-pointer before Jenkins out-did him with his own amazing shot.

April 3, 2017

Three hundred and sixty-four days later, back in the same game as a year ago, UNC was looking right the wrong from just a season ago. With essentially the same team back but without the services of Paige and Johnson, they managed to win the South Region and beat an Oregon team who was clicking on all cylinders before running into the Tar Heels. Waiting for them was a Gonzaga Bulldog team who just had one loss all season. Head Coach Mark Few assembled a talented team of homegrown talent and transfer players, such as Nigel Williams-Goss. Having never been to a Final Four in school history, the Zags won the West Region and beat America’s Cinderella in South Carolina in the National Semifinal to reach the final game of the tournament.

Gonzaga led by three at the half but were struggling to get center Przemek Karnowski going. The size and strength of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks kept UNC within striking distance even though Justin Jackson was 0 of 6 from behind the arc. As a team, the Tar Heels shot just 2 of 13 from three, while Gonzaga was shooting an efficient 5 of 9.

The officiating was a storyline in the second half of the game, as 27 fouls were called between the two teams behind in the final half just alone. Neither team was able to gain much of a rhythm, but the game stayed close. It was not until a Kennedy Meeks blocked shot of Williams-Goss while UNC led 68-65 that led to a run out dunk for Jackson clinched the game and title for the Tar Heels.

It was an amazing moment for the 2017 version of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Through the heartbreak of last season, the team found the strength to regroup and fight harder and were able to capture that elusive title and place in UNC history.

Aggie Baseball falls to No. 6 ranked Red Raiders

By: Derek E. Gonzales

LAS CRUCES- After a grueling stretch of baseball that included playing 14 out of their last 15 games away from Presley Askew Field, the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team returned to the friendly confines only to find the No. 6 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders awaiting them. NMSU dug themselves a deep hole by allowing six first-inning runs (five of which came before an out was recorded) to the Red Raiders and never recovered in a 15-4 loss.

Pitcher Chris Kucko got the start for the Aggies and was unable to register an out against the potent TTU offense. The first three batters all reached base to load them up early for the Red Raiders (26-6), and the first run of the day came from a walk of first baseman Hunter Hargrove, scoring lead-off man Grant Little from third. The next batter, Michael Borglund, doubled to right-center field to score Josh Jung and Michael Davis to push the lead to 3-0. Kucko gave up a single to the next batter Orlando Garcia that scored another two runs and was pulled from the contest after that with the Aggies down 5-0.

Senior pitcher Andy Frakes was called in to relieve Kucko and was able to get out of the jam while conceding just one more run in the inning.

NMSU (17-13) did show some positive flashes against a team that could very well be hosting a Super Regional come NCAA Tournament time. After the first half inning by the Red Raiders that could take the fight out of some teams, the Aggie offense came back in the bottom of the first inning and cut into the lead. With two outs, Dan Hetzel lined a triple out to left field, scoring third baseman Joey Ortiz to put the Aggies on the scoreboard.

Cutting the lead to five would be as close as the Aggies could get, as TTU would go on to have four other innings of scoring multiple runs against a platoon of Aggie pitchers. Mid-week games present a challenge for head coach Brian Green because how he chooses to use the pitching staff for mid-week game could dictate the effectiveness of his unit for the three-game series that tends to follow that upcoming weekend.

“We need to have a quick memory and our coaches are

excited to get back to work and go after WAC play again.”

“It is about winning the league and we burned some of our weekend pitching (in mid-week games) last year and we have not wanted to do that this year,” Green said.

Ortiz had a productive afternoon from the third spot in the order, going 4-for-5 and scoring twice. Hetzel, Austin Botello, reigning WAC Hitter of the Week Tristen Carranza and Brent Sakurai all recorded an RBI each, which speaks to the balance that the Aggies have in their lineup.

After sweeping Seattle U to being conference play, the Aggies will have returned to the ‘Skew for a three-game series with WAC foe UT-Rio Grande Valley. The team will now head on the road to face Sacramento State Thursday, Friday and Saturday before having to take another dip out of conference play to face the Red Raiders again, this time in Midland, Texas on April 18.

MBB: Season In Review

By: Derek Gonzalez

For the first 20 minutes of basketball, the 14-seed New Mexico State Aggie men’s basketball team look to be every part of a team ready to play Cinderella. They were outrebounding the mighty 3-seed Baylor Bears front line that led the Big 12 in rebounding margin by three at intermission and were 6 for 14 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, in the end, the two-point halftime lead that was capped off by a Braxton Huggins 3-pointer at the buzzer was not enough, as the Aggies succumbed to a massive Baylor interior in a 93-71 loss Friday afternoon inside the BOK Center.

NMSU ends the season 28-6, breaking the school record for wins in a season that was held by the 1970 Final Four team that was coached by Lou Henson. Head Coach Paul Weir, who has kept Henson involved in the program, had the most wins in the country for a first-year head coach.

“I was talking to Coach Henson earlier in the week before we left, and coach told me ‘you’re going to have to play well but they are going to have a bit of an off night’ and we didn’t catch them on that off night,” Weir said, who in his inaugural season as a Division I head coach, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. “They made a lot of two-point jump shots and just made a lot of plays so you got to give Baylor credit.”

The Bears (26-7) shot 19 of 32 from the field in the second half and connected on all 14 free throw attempts. Terry Maston, who came into the game averaging 6.4 points per game, kept Baylor afloat with 12 first-half points while All-American Johnathan Motley was on the bench with foul trouble. Maston and Al Freeman combined for 25 bench points for the Bears in the first half. With Motley acting as a spectator, Maston knew that he would need to step up to help avoid a third-consectutive first-round exit.

“He’s (Motley) is a really essential part of our team and they (NMSU) were giving me the mid-range jumper and I made a couple and they just kept falling for me,” Maston said, finishing with 19 points on the day, three shy of his career high.

Motley’s second-half return to the floor was felt immediately. Baylor opened up the half with a suffocating man-to-man defense that made scoring inside extremely difficult. NMSU was only able to shoot 36.7 percent in the second half as opposed to a 50 percent clip in the first. The Bears’ biggest lead was 20 with 8:43 left and outscored the Aggies in the paint 30-6 in the second half. An early 13-2 run in the second half turned a 42-38 deficit into a 51-44 lead in a game-defining stretch, as the Aggies were never able to stop the bleeding from the point on.

WAC Player of the Year Ian Baker led the Aggies with 19 points and five assists in his last game in an NMSU uniform. Baker was apart four postseason teams in his career and scored a career-high 36 points against UT-Rio Grande Valley on February 18.

“I would say my four years at New Mexico State, I had a blast,” Baker said. “I told one of these people here the other day that in a million years I would have never thought I would have ended up at New Mexico State, but it was the place for me and I’m glad ended up there.”

Tanveer Bhullar Transferring

It has been announced through an NMSU press release that center Tanveer Bhullar will be leaving the program to either join another program as a graduate transfer or playing professionally.

“Tanveer has been an absolute pleasure to coach in my time here,” Weir stated in the press release. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us and we all wish him nothing but the best at his future destination.”

The younger brother of former Aggie center Sim Bhullar, the 7’2 Canadian saw a decrease in time this past season, as Paul Weir’s new uptempo style made it tough for Bhullar to carve out a role. Bhullar scored a season-high 11 points against Seattle U and recorded a season-high 10 rebounds against rival New Mexico.

NMSU slated to face Illinois next season

Coming off a school-record 28 wins and another WAC Championship, NMSU is now looking to beef up their non-conference schedule and has added a semi-neutral site game with the Illinois Illni next season. The game will take place inside the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, as a tribute game to Hall of Famer Lou Henson, who took both programs to the Final Four. UI will be under the leadership of new head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State after just one season to replace John Groce. Groce was fired after failing to lead UI to the NCAA Tournament in four straight years. NMSU will also play in the Diamond Head Classic on the campus of the University of Hawai’i, which will feature Akron (MAC), Davidson (A-10), Miami (ACC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), USC (PAC-12), Utah State (MWC), and Hawai’i (Big West).

Incoming talent

The Aggies will have the challenge of having to replace WAC Player of the Year and leading scorer Ian Baker next year as well as Matt Taylor and Tanveer Bhullar, but the coaching staff has hit the recruiting trails and look to have the roster reloaded for 2017. L.J. Figueroa was the 87th-ranked player in the class of 2017 out of Orlando’s West Oaks Academy and chose New Mexico State over Louisville and Florida among others. NMSU has also signed junior-college players Tyree Robinson and Jachai Simmons. They are both top 100 in junior college prospect rankings. Marlon Jones and Sidy N’dir will also return to action after both players suffered season-ending injuries.

Aggies valiant effort falls short against Baylor

By: Derek E. Gonzales

 

 

 

TULSA, Okla.- For the first 20 minutes of basketball, the 14-seed New Mexico State Aggie men’s basketball team look to be every part of a team ready to play Cinderella. They were outrebounding the mighty 3-seed Baylor Bears front line that led the Big 12 in rebounding margin by three at intermission and were 6 for 14 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, in the end, the two-point halftime lead that was capped off by a Braxton Huggins 3-pointer at the buzzer was not enough, as the Aggies succumbed to a massive Baylor interior in a 93-71 loss Friday afternoon inside the BOK Center.

 

NMSU ends the season 28-6, breaking the school record for wins in a season that was held by the 1970 Final Four team that was coached by Lou Henson. Head Coach Paul Weir, who has kept Henson involved in the program, had the most wins in the country for a first-year head coach.

 

“I was talking to Coach Henson earlier in the week before we left, and coach told me ‘you’re going to have to play well but they are going to have a bit of an off night’ and we didn’t catch them on that off night,” Weir said, who in his inaugural season as a Division I head coach, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. “They made a lot of two-point jump shots and just made a lot of plays so you got to give Baylor credit.”

 

The Bears (26-7) shot 19 of 32 from the field in the second half and connected on all 14 free throw attempts. Terry Maston, who came into the game averaging 6.4 points per game, kept Baylor afloat with 12 first-half points while All-American Johnathan Motley was on the bench with foul trouble. Maston and Al Freeman combined for 25 bench points for the Bears in the first half. With Motley acting as a spectator, Maston knew that he would need to step up to help avoid a third-consectutive first-round exit.

 

 

 

“He’s (Motley) is a really essential part of our team and they (NMSU) were giving me the mid-range jumper and I made a couple and they just kept falling for me,” Maston said, finishing with 19 points on the day, three shy of his career high.

 

Motley’s second-half return to the floor was felt immediately. Baylor opened up the half with a suffocating man-to-man defense that made scoring inside extremely difficult. NMSU was only able to shoot 36.7 percent in the second half as opposed to a 50 percent clip in the first. The Bears’ biggest lead was 20 with 8:43 left and outscored the Aggies in the paint 30-6 in the second half. An early 13-2 run in the second half turned a 42-38 deficit into a  51-44 lead in a game-defining stretch, as the Aggies were never able to stop the bleeding from the point on.

 

WAC Player of the Year Ian Baker led the Aggies with 19 points and five assists in his last game in an NMSU uniform. Baker was apart four postseason teams in his career and scored a career-high 36 points against UT-Rio Grande Valley on February 18.

 

“I would say my four years at New Mexico State, I had a blast,” Baker said. “I told one of these people here the other day that in a million years I would have never thought I would have ended up at New Mexico State, but it was the place for me and I’m glad ended up there.”

 

Tanveer Bhullar Transferring

 

It has been announced through an NMSU press release that center Tanveer Bhullar will be leaving the program to either join another program as a graduate transfer or playing professionally.

“Tanveer has been an absolute pleasure to coach in my time here,” Weir stated in the press release. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us and we all wish him nothing but the best at his future destination.”

The younger brother of former Aggie center Sim Bhullar, the 7’2 Canadian saw a decrease in time this past season, as Paul Weir’s new uptempo style made it tough for Bhullar to carve out a role. Bhullar scored a season-high 11 points against Seattle U and recorded a season-high 10 rebounds against rival New Mexico.

 

NMSU slated to face Illinois next season

 

Coming off a school-record 28 wins and another WAC Championship, NMSU is now looking to beef up their non-conference schedule and has added a semi-neutral site game with the Illinois Illni next season. The game will take place inside the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, as a tribute game to Hall of Famer Lou Henson, who took both programs to the Final Four. UI will be under the leadership of new head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State after just one season to replace John Groce. Groce was fired after failing to lead UI to the NCAA Tournament in four straight years. NMSU will also play in the Diamond Head Classic on the campus of the University of Hawai’i, which will feature Akron (MAC), Davidson (A-10), Miami (ACC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), USC (PAC-12), Utah State (MWC), and Hawai’i (Big West).

 

Incoming talent

 

The Aggies will have the challenge of having to replace WAC Player of the Year and leading scorer Ian Baker next year as well as Matt Taylor and Tanveer Bhullar, but the coaching staff has hit the recruiting trails and look to have the roster reloaded for 2017. L.J. Figueroa was the 87th-ranked player in the class of 2017 out of Orlando’s West Oaks Academy and chose New Mexico State over Louisville and Florida among others. NMSU has also signed junior-college players Tyree Robinson and Jachai Simmons. They are both top 100 in junior college prospect rankings. Marlon Jones and Sidy N’dir will also return to action after both players suffered season-ending injuries.

Aggie bats are off to hot start in 2017

By: Derek Gonzales

Through 15 games this season, the New Mexico State baseball team appears to have made another leap forward after having the nation’s biggest turnaround a year ago. The Aggies are RECORD and lead the nation in a few offensive categories (Batting avg. (.366), hits (189), runs (155), OBP. (.462), doubles (38), and scoring (11.1)).

Having hosted the Yale Bulldogs in a four-game series in the last home series before a nine-game road trip, the Aggies dropped the series opener 3-1. NMSU was held to a season-low five hits and could not capitalize on the solid outing from starting pitcher Jonathan Groff, who gave up just two earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched.

The Bulldogs could not keep the Aggie offense from getting going in the final three games of the series. NMSU scored 41 runs over the next 27 innings and only struck out four times in 112 at bats. Senior Austin Botello lead the NCAA in hits with 26 and is third in RBI’s with 21. Winning the final three games of the series improved NMSU to 9-3 in their first 12 games at Presley Askew Field.

It was a quick turnaround for the Aggies after the Yale series. The team made the 45-minute bus ride down to Southwest University Park in downtown El Paso two days later for the first of three games against I-25 rival New Mexico. The beautiful 9,500 seat home of the El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate) hosted this game for the second-consecutive year to connect NMSU baseball to the borderland area (UTEP does not sponsor baseball). Last season, the Aggies knocked off the Lobos 9-6 in their only win in four tries against UNM.

This time around, the Lobos wasted no time jumping on their southern rivals, scoring the game’s first three runs and holding the potent Aggie offense to just a couple of runs in the game in the 8-2 UNM win.

The problem was not hits or getting people on base for NMSU (9-6), because they collected 12 hits as a team. It was stringing together a rally that the Aggies had trouble with. The Aggies scored seven hits with two outs, which puts pressure on the defense, but also takes away any chance of sacrifice hits.

“Offensively, we are doing okay, but defensively, we have to improve,” NMSU Head Coach Brian Green said. “We just have to get tougher and play the game a pitch at a time, not play the scoreboard and we have to fight a little bit harder.”

UNM (8-3) went into the game with the nation’s third-best RPI and were solid in all facets of the game. The Lobo defense did not commit an error the entire game and used seven different pitchers in the game, while the Aggies used nine.

First baseman Jack Zoellner went 3 for 4 an RBI to lead the UNM offense, while Andre Vigil and Robby Campillo both registered a couple of hits each for the Lobos.

Botello played a hand in both Aggie runs. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th inning and the bases loaded, Botello was hit by the first pitch he saw, scoring Brian Kiser. Two innings later, Botello reached on a fielder’s choice that lead-off man Marcus Still.

Mid-week games are often tough to manage, as teams must carefully manage which arms they use in preparation of a weekend series a few days. This game was no different, as

Head Coach Brian Green used an army to get through the nine innings as the team was slated to head to Salt Lake City to play a three-game series with the Utah Utes.

Dalton Shalberg saw the most action, going 2.1 innings and giving up three earned runs and four hits. It was still a good experience for the four El Paso natives on the NMSU roster (Matthew Perea, Mathew Munden, Alex Reyes, Dante Martinez) as well as a good opportunity to look at the Lobos before seeing them again on March 28 at Presley Askew Field.

“When we get into these mid-week games, you are a little thin and we have not responded well,” Green said. “We have a great opportunity in front of us with ten road games against all basically ranked teams so it will be a good opportunity for us to toughen up.”

Aggie Football Nears Annual Spring Game

By: Derek Gonzales

The New Mexico State football team will conclude their 2017 edition of spring practice with the Spring Game Saturday at 1 p.m. After finishing last season 3-9 for the second consecutive year, next year’s team will look to become bowl eligible in its last year as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Here are some headlines and the latest news regarding the team.

Tyler Rogers granted medical redshirt

NMSU will have the services of quarterback Tyler Rogers after the Sun Belt granted the Peoria, Ariz. native a medical redshirt for, making him eligible for the 2017 season. The redshirt stems from the season-ending injury he sustained in 2015 against New Mexico. Since the injury occurred before he played in 30 percent of the team’s games, he was granted the waiver. Returning as a senior, Rogers will be at the top of the team’s depth chart, as he played well in stretches, throwing 16 touchdowns last season. Head Coach Doug Martin has been trying to get backup quarterback Conner Cramer on the field in other roles, so Rogers will be getting a majority if not all the first-team reps going into fall camp in August.

Chase Holbrook returns home

The best statistical quarterback to ever wear an Aggie uniform has returned to the program he once led. Holbrook played for the Aggies from 2006-08 and broke nearly every record in the books, including touchdowns thrown (85), total offense (4,541), career yardage (11,921), and career attempts (1,575). His play under former head coach Hal Mumme made the Aggies and the Air-Raid offense must-see TV during those three seasons. Holbrook now returns to NMSU nearly 10 years later as a coach after spending time at Washington State as an Offensive Quality Control Coordinator. He will be coaching tight ends.

2017 opponents and dates are announced

Not only is the Sun Belt Conference turning its back on NMSU after next season, but they piled it on with a brutal conference schedule for the Aggies this season. Six teams made a bowl game from the SBC last season, and all six are on next year’s slate. Here’s the schedule with last season’s record for those teams.

Sept. 2 at Arizona State (5-7)

Sept. 9 at New Mexico (9-4)

Sept. 16 vs Troy (10-3)

Sept. 23 vs. UTEP (5-7)

Sept. 30 at Arkansas (7-6)

Oct. 7 at Appalachian State (10-3)

Oct. 14 at Georgia Southern (5-7)

Oct. 28 vs. Arkansas State (8-5)

Nov. 4 at Texas State (2-10)

Nov. 18 at Louisiana-Lafayette (6-7)

Nov. 25 vs. Idaho (9-4)

Dec. 2 vs. South Alabama (6-7)

Starting off the season with consecutive road games is the last thing the team needed. Having two rivals and eight conference games takes away the opportunity for NMSU to schedule an FCS opponent, and it hurts a team that needs to jump out to a good start. If they could somehow split those first two games, it could boost the morale going into the home opener. Troy drubbed NMSU each of the last two years, including a 45-7 beat down the last time they visited Aggie Memorial. If the Aggies can pull out two wins in their first eight games, it’s possible for the team to win three out of four to close the year. A bowl bid should be the goal and it is realistic, but the team will have to stay in road games and hopefully squeak one out.

Men’s Basketball: 5 Things to Look for in the WAC Tournament

By: Joseph Fullbright

1. Motivation

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since the New Mexico State Aggies men’s basketball teams had their hearts broken in the 2016 WAC Tournament championship game. Trailing by as many as ten, the Aggies put together a big second-half rally to tie the game up at 54 with 13 seconds left. On the final play of the game, Cal-State Bakersfield player Dedrick Basile nailed a three-pointer to send the Runners to the NCAA Tournament with a 57-54 victory. The Aggies had won the previous four WAC Tournaments entering 2016. If you ask any player which team they want to face in the tournament, they will say the Runners. If NMSU can play with the fire that the loss lit under them, then they will be hard to stop.

2. Coach Weir

Having spent the past nine seasons as an assistant coach under Marvin Menzies, coach Paul Weir is no stranger to big moments. In fact, under Menzies’ reign, the Aggies went to five NCAA Tournaments. Weir was with them the entire way. He has obviously shown his ability to be a successful coach- just look at his 25-5 record in his inaugural season. Aggie fans can be the first to tell you that Weir is more vocal and energetic than Menzies was, and his passions shows in his players. He is a player’s coach; so look for the players to stand behind him and play their hearts out.

3. Defensive Pressure

     Coach Weir has always been the mastermind behind the Aggies’ defensive success in recent years. This season, he decided to overlook the entire team and appointed assistant coach Jesse Bopp in charge of defensive duties. Bopp has done a very solid job. During the Aggies losing skid a few weeks back, the defense has struggled. Following their loss to Utah Valley last Thursday, the Aggies and coach Paul Weir met together and decided to return to their full-court pressure that was so key all year. It was a fatigue issue, as the Aggies only have 11 players due to injuries and needed to save their legs. Here comes the tough stretch, where they would have to play three games in three nights- their defensive pressure is going to be much needed if they want to get to the big dance.

4. Ian Baker

They say you improve every year and Ian Baker has shown that is true. Baker is the lone senior on the roster and has been the key leader for the Aggies this season. He is having the best season of his career averaging 16.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Big time players make big time plays and he is going to be counted on to lead this team and keep them cool, calm, and collected in Vegas. It’s time for one last run at an NCAA Tournament bid for the senior point guard.

5. Do Your Job

Despite a shaky stretch that included losing three of their final five games, the Aggies are definitely the best team in the WAC. Don’t let the fact that they are only the #2 seed distract you from their solid victories over Arizona State, UNM, and Long Beach State. The Aggies need to put their last few weeks behind them and just do what they did to earn their 25-5 record. No other team in the tournament offers the dynamic players like Baker, Braxton Huggins, and Eli Chuha. Leave the past in the past. Like the New England Patriots’ mantra: do your job, and you’ll be ok.

The #2-seeded Aggies will open up the 2017 WAC Tournament vs. #7 Chicago State on Thursday, March 9 in the quarterfinals.