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Howling With The Lobos: Utah State Preview

Senior Night in Albuquerque

McNeese v New Mexico Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

What: New Mexico Lobos vs. Utah State Aggies

When: Saturday February 29th, 2020 at 8 p.m. Mountain

Where: DreamStyle Arena a.k.a. The Pit in Albuquerque, NM

Coverage: CBS Sports Network will have the television side of things. The UNM Sports Radio Network will have the radio call (770 AM/94.5 FM KKOB in Albuquerque, TuneIn App search KKOB).

Series: This is the 38th meeting between the two schools. Utah State owns the series with a record of 26-11. The Aggies have won the last three meetings, including a 68-66 win in The Pit last season. The last time these two teams met was in the Mountain West Conference Tournament last season, with the Aggies winning 91-83.

Breakdown:

It is Senior Night for the New Mexico Lobos as they host the Utah State Aggies in The Pit on Saturday night. The Lobos are looking to break a five-game losing streak tonight. Last game out the Lobos lost to Air Force 60-58 to drop them to 17-13 overall and 6-11 in the MWC.

Utah State comes into this contest on a six-game winning streak and have appeared to hit their stride heading towards conference tournament time. They have won 10 of their last 12 contests to turn a 13-5 record into a 23-7 one and are 12-5 in conference. A win for the Aggies in this one would sew up the two seed in next week’s MWC Tournament.

When it rains it pours:

It seems light years ago that the Lobos were on their way to contending in the MWC when the wheels started falling off. Things have gone from bad to worse over the last several months with New Mexico as off court issues took center stage. The issues again have reared their ugly heads as Vante Hendrix hasn’t seen action in the last two games because of coach’s decision. Hendrix did practice this week, and is expected to play tonight, but it was yet another distraction in a season full of them.

Key Players from Utah State:

The Lobos are going to get a heavy dose of Sam Merrill. The senior guard is averaging 18.9 points per game this season and has had just one game all season in which he didn’t score in double figures. The last Utah State game was a 94-59 win over San Jose State, and Merrill scored 18 points in that one.

Justin Bean also poses a threat from Utah State. He averages 12.5 points per game to go along with his 10.4 rebounds per game. Against San Jose State, Bean had 12 points and 13 rebounds. In fact, he has a double-double in each of the last three games and has 15 of them on the season.

Neemias Queta is averaging 12.4 points per game, and just like Bean, is a force underneath. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds against San Jose State and has eight or more rebounds in five straight games.

Seniors Being Honored:

Tonight, is Senior Night for two Lobos; Corey Manigault and JaQuan Lyle.

Manigault has slowly built himself into a presence on the inside. Two seasons ago he averaged just 0.8 points per game, while seeing action in 18 games. Last season, his minutes jumped to 16.6 per game, and his point average rose too, up to 9.0 per game. This season, he had to take over down in the post with the dismissal of Carlton Bragg, and his points per game have jumped to 12.0 per game. Corey has struggled over the last three games, scoring just 12 points combined in those three. He’ll look to go out with a bang tonight in what could very well be his last game in The Pit.

JaQuan Lyle has been a polarizing figure on and off the floor. He has shown flashes at times that show why he was heavily recruited out of high school by Power Five teams. He ended up at Ohio State before transferring here to New Mexico. Lyle was explosive earlier in the season but has seemed at time to let his emotions get the better of him during stretches in which he struggles to score. He was booed during the UNLV contest earlier this season, a game in which he scored just three points. He missed one game with a knee injury, and two more with a suspension following an incident at a party he was hosting. If he can return to his form from earlier this season, kind of like what he did against Air Force, then the Lobos will have a shot to win tonight.

Lobos X-Factor:

The Lobos need as much inside presence as possible. Sam Merrill is going to score a ton, there’s no stopping that, but if the Lobos can slow down Bean and Queta then they will have a shot to pull off the upset. It will be up to Manigault, Makuach Maluach and Vance Jackson to get it done.

Prediction:

This is a tough one to figure out. There will be a lot of emotion in the building tonight as the fans send off this team one last time at home in what has turned into a disappointing season. The Lobos do have a lot of talent still on their team, but it will be a matter of turning the corner mentally to get out of this funk. There is of course Lyle and Manigault wanting to go out with a bang. Sam Merrill poses a huge threat to UNM defensively, and it will be tough to overcome. But I am going to take the Lobos in the season finale; Lobos-78 Utah State-74.