Aggies set to open WAC play at Grand Canyon

NMSU

LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — Whether they are ready or not, Western Athletic Conference (WAC) play is here for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team and the stakes are as high as ever. The Aggies (3-1) have played just four games this season, the last amount for any Division I program this season, with only one of those games played against a Division I opponent.

NMSU will travel to Phoenix, Arizona, where they will meet WAC rival Grand Canyon for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday at GCU Arena.

“To be brutally honest with you, no — we are not [ready], but we don’t have a choice,” said NMSU head coach Chris Jans. “We’d love to play three or four more games — then I think we’d be in a better position to play conference race type of games, especially having to open on the road at a team that already has four road wins under its belt.”

In his fourth year as the head coach at NMSU, Jans has never lost to the Antelopes — a perfect 8-0 mark, including postseason. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT on Friday and Saturday. Both games will air on ESPN3.

Game Five
NM State (3-1, 0-0 WAC) at Grand Canyon (10-3, 4-0 WAC)
Friday, January 29 | 7:00 p.m. | GCU Arena | Phoenix, Ariz.
Watch (ESPN3) | Watch (YouTube) | Listen | Live Stats | NM State Game Notes | GCU Game Notes

OPENING TIPS
• At last, three weeks after their Western Athletic Conference compatriots started taking part in league games, NM State is set to begin its three-time WAC championship defense as the Aggies roll back into Phoenix, Ariz., for a two-game set at league adversary Grand Canyon.
• Friday’s series opener at GCU Arena is slated to tip off at 7:00 p.m. with ESPN3, the ESPN app and GCU’s YouTube Channel streaming every second of the action.
• Over the airwaves, longtime NM State play-by-play man and US Bank/NM State Athletics Hall of Famer Jack Nixon will narrate the action from GCU Arena on Zia Country 99.5 FM in Las Cruces.
• Listeners outside of the Las Cruces area can access Nixon’s call on the Aggie Sports Network’s affiliate stations which include 103.5 FM KNMZ (Alamogordo), 1150 AM KNMM (Albuquerque), 1240 AM KAMQ (Carlsbad), 1380 AM KHEY (El Paso), 1230 AM, 94.9 FM KYVA (Gallup) and 107.1 FM KMDS (Las Vegas). Fans not in any of those areas can also find his broadcast via the TuneIn app which is available nationwide.

FAST BREAK POINTS
• NM State is playing just its second NCAA Division I opponent of 2020-21 when it takes the court against GCU Friday night. The Aggies have had six games cancelled due to COVID-19 pauses by either themselves of their potential opponents.
• As a result of two separate COVID-19 pauses, NM State has played the fewest games among all NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams thus far. The Aggies have taken part in just four contests, tied for the least in the land with American (Patriot League), North Carolina Central (MEAC) and Loyola Maryland (Patriot League).
• Friday night’s game marks the second-latest date in which the Aggies have opened conference play in program history. Back in the 1933-34 season, NM State and head coach Jerry Hines started Border Conference play on February 5 against Northern Arizona.
• The Aggies sport the nation’s best field goal percentage defense with opponents shooting just 36.7-percent against NM State this year. NM State also sits among the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense (seventh, 59.5 opponent ppg), scoring margin (ninth, +17.5) and rebounding (17th, 41.0 per game).
• After a 5-of-5 showing at the stripe Monday afternoon in El Paso, Texas, senior guard Evan Gilyard II leads the WAC and ranks seventh in the nation in free throw percentage (.938).

WE GOT WAC-TION
• More often than not, the Aggies have started WAC play on the right foot. New Mexico State is 15-2 (.883) all-time in WAC openers. Now in his fourth season in charge in Las Cruces, head coach Chris Jans owns a 2-1 (.667) showing in WAC openers and is 3-1 (.750) all-time in league lid-lifters as an NCAA Division I bench boss.

WAC FACTS
• The Aggies’ dominance in the WAC as of late has resulted in any number of impressive winning streaks for the squad.
• 34 | Dating back to the 2018-19 season, the Aggies have won 34 consecutive games against WAC opposition – the nation’s longest active run against league foes.
• 31 | In regular season WAC tilts, NM State has reeled off 31 consecutive triumphs – the longest streak in the history of the league and the longest active run in the nation. The Aggies’ run of 31-straight regular season conference wins is the fifth-longest in the 21st century, too. NM State’s current run of consecutive regular season conference wins this century has been surpassed only by Davidson (43 from 2007-09), Gonzaga (40 from 2018-20), Memphis (33 from 2006-10) and SFA (32 from 2013-15).
• 25 | Inside their home venue of the Pan Am Center, the Aggies have racked up 25-straight triumphs over WAC opposition. That’s the nation’s second-longest winning streak in conference home games bettered only by South Dakota State’s 27 consecutive home victories over Summit League adversaries.
• 16 | NM State has won its last 16 WAC road games. The Aggies’ streak of conference road wins is the longest in the nation at the moment.

ARKANSAS TRAVELER
• Mid-year roster changes aren’t something that have happened with a great deal of frequency for the Aggies, but that changed this season. Gerald Doakes, a 6’2 guard out of Jacksonville, Ark., signed on with NM State in mid-January.
• After becoming an NCAA qualifier at the semester break, Doakes agreed to join NM State for the start of his collegiate career. Previously, Doakes played for SPIRE Institute in Ohio and was rated as a three or four-star recruit.
• Doakes held offers from Arkansas, Florida, Illinois and Ole Miss among others during his prep days.
• NM State is one of six teams around the nation who now have a mid-year enrollee at their disposal. Other programs on that list include Maryland, Memphis, Ohio State, USC and Wake Forest 

LAST TIME OUT | NM STATE 70, WESTERN N.M. 41 | Monday, Jan. 26
• Paced by a game and career-high 20 points by junior forward Wilfried Likayi, NM State pulled away from Western New Mexico in the second half en route to a 70-41 win over Western New Mexico.
• Monday’s game took place at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, and was the Aggies’ first tilt in 28 days.
• Senior guard Evan Gilyard II helped break the game open for NM State by scoring six points (three free throws and a three-pointer) in the final 0.8 seconds of the opening half.
• The short-handed Aggies were without the services of Rashaun Agee, Clayton Henry, Mayan Kiir, Jabari Rice and Donnie Tillman, setting the stage for both Likayi and Jason King to make their first appearances in NM State’s starting lineup.
• Gilyard II netted all 12 of his points in the opening frame and the Aggies’ newest player – freshman guard Gerald Doakes – turned in an 11-point outing in his collegiate debut.
• NM State turned its defensive intensity up a couple of notches in the second half, holding Western New Mexico to a shooting clip of just 18.2-percent (4-of-22) through the final 20 minutes of action.
• The month of January continued to be a highly successful one for Aggie head coach Chris Jans. The team’s fourth-year bench boss improved to 21-1 (.955) as NM State’s leader in the month of January and in his Division I head coaching career Jans is 27-4 (.871) in January.
• By playing at the Don Haskins Center, NM State has now used two different gyms for its “home” games.

SCOUTING GRAND CANYON | ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS
• No longer under the eye of “Thunder” Dan Majerle, the Lopes are in the midst of a big-time turnaround season with Bryce Drew at the helm.
• Grand Canyon is one of three WAC teams and one of 21 NCAA Division I teams from around the nation who have not suffered a conference setback so far in 2020-21.
• Drew and his troops sit atop the WAC standings with a 4-0 record in league play and a lot of their successes can be traced to the talent of their two interior stars: Asbjørn Mitgaard and Alessandro Lever.
• Mitgaard (15.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Lever (12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are the Lopes’ top two scorers and rebounders, but it’s Mitgaard who has come on especially strong in his inaugural season in a GCU uniform.
• A transfer from Wichita State, the 7’0 Dane (whose first name means “God’s Bear” in Danish) has been a force to be reckoned with down low. The senior leads the nation in field goal percentage (.745) and ranks among the top 25 in both rebounding (23rd) and defensive rebounding (20th, 7.31 per game).
• Jovan Blacksher Jr., (11.8 ppg) rounds out the Lopes’ top three scorers and also serves as the team’s leading assist man (5.2 per game).
• With that cast of characters on their side, the Lopes sit among the top 20 in the nation in a number of statistical categories including rebounding margin (first, +12.2), scoring margin (fifth, +18.8), field goal percentage (fifth, .518), field goal percentage defense (seventh, .377), defensive rebounds per game (ninth, 30.15) and rebounds per game (15th, 41.15).

LAST TIME OUT vs. GCU | NM STATE 67, GCU 53 | Feb. 27, 2020
• Two separate Aggie surges – one of the 10-0 variety to open the game and an 11-0 one to begin the second half – helped NM State capture its eighth-straight victory over Grand Canyon in a 67-53 triumph last February inside GCU Arena.
• Energy – especially in the rebounding department – was the Aggies’ calling card all night as NM State finished with a 48-26 edge on the glass against the Lopes.
• NM State roped in one fewer offensive rebound (25) than the Lopes’ (26) rebounding total.
• Four players corralled seven or more caroms for NM State including Jabari Rice who finished with a game-best nine of them to compliment his 16-point outing.
• Trevelin Queen turned in 14 points and eight rebounds of his own with that pair combining to produce 30 of the Aggies’ 67 points and 13 of their 26 made field goals.
• NM State’s lead grew to as high as 26, 56-30, after a pair of free throw makes by Will McNair with 10:25 left.
• Each of Grand Canyon’s three lowest point totals in a WAC game have come against New Mexico State. The Lopes scored 53 in this tilt, 52 in an Aggie win on Feb. 1, 2020 in Las Cruces and 50 on Feb. 4, 2016 against NM State.
• With the victory, NM State extended the nation’s longest active winning streak to 17 consecutive games. That was tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in the history of the program and the Aggies also added to their WAC record by collecting their 28th-straight regular season league victory.
• Head coach Chris Jans improved to 8-0 all-time against GCU with the win.

COMING UP NEXT
• NM State and Grand Canyon will wrap up their two-game WAC series at the same place (GCU Arena) and at the same time (7:00 p.m.) Saturday night.

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