New Mexico (9-5) surprised everyone on Sunday when they went into Viejas Arena and beat the preseason Mountain West favorites San Diego State Aztecs 68-62. Now, they will look to take care of business against a Utah State that is 0-2 in conference play and 7-7 on the season.
Utah State will surely be a mighty foe. Seniors Shane Rector and Jalen Moore combine for 29 points a game. Personally, I expected more growth from Rector this season. His points per game total has only jumped from 9 to 12 while the rest of his stats have stayed about the same, but the point guard could still be a handful for the Lobos defense. The guy that the Lobos really need to keep their eye on is freshman Koby McEwen.
The Toronto guard is averaging 15 points per game to go with 5 boards and raining 40% from deep. He should keep Elijah Brown on his toes if Brown is assigned to defend him. Consequently, forcing Brown to play defense might be one of the best ways to slow him down on offense. I’m hoping that Noodles Neal sticks defensive ace Sam Logwood on McEwen to see if his length bothers him.
The Aggies are losers of three straight and have had difficulties closing out games. The opposite could be said about the Lobos. UNM’s late-game free-throw shooting has been nothing short of a clinic lately. In fact, 29% of all Lobo points come from the charity stripe, good for first in the nation. And at 75% on the season, New Mexico should continue to try to get to the foul line early and often. This attacking offense has allowed Brown to get points on otherwise poor shooting nights and will keep the team in almost any game.
On paper, Tim Williams and Brown should be too much for the Aggies to handle. Of course, that’s why the game is played. The match-ups between Williams and Moore as well as Brown and McEwen could be some of the best in the conference this season. Moreover, it remains to be seen who will emerge as a threat beyond Williams and Brown.
Against SDSU, Dane Kuiper, Xavier Adams, and Jalen Harris combined for 27 points. Can they have repeat performances? Finally, I’ll be looking to see if New Mexico is still riding the San Diego State victory or if they are ready for a tough and skilled Aggies team. USU holds an all-time record of 21-8 against New Mexico, so the Lobos should not take them lightly.
Tonight’s game can be found on ESPNU at 9 pm MT.