NMSU set to play UTRGV, Vaqueros playing with heavy hearts

NMSU

LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — The New Mexico State men’s basketball team will “host” UTRGV in a WAC makeup game on Tuesday morning inside the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas. NMSU and UTRGV were originally scheduled to play a two-game WAC series on Friday, Jan. 22, and Saturday, Jan. 23, but a COVID-19 pause by NMSU forced a postponement of the series.

The Aggies (7-7, 4-6 WAC) are coming off their fourth consecutive series split, winning a game and losing a game this past weekend at Tarleton State.

The Vaqueros (9-6, 2-2 WAC) were swept by Utah Valley last weekend and continue to play with heavy hearts. Lew Hill, who had been the team’s head coach since 2016, suddenly died Feb. 7 at the age of 55.

“I’ve thought about it [not seeing Hill on the UTRGV bench] a lot over the last 24 hours because I’m watching them play [on film],” said Jans. “I’m looking at their bench and they have a sport coat on the chair. It looks to me like they have a white board for the ball coach on his chair. It’s really easy to let your mind wander when you’re in work mode — and that’s okay.”

Tuesday morning’s game will air on FOX Sports Arizona and the WAC Digital Network. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m. in El Paso.

Game notes courtesy: NM State Athletics

OPENING TIPS
• Hoping to get back in the win column, the NM State men’s basketball team heads to El Paso, Texas, for the final time in the 2020-21 campaign where it is set to tangle with UTRGV Tuesday morning at 11:00 a.m. from the Don Haskins Center. No fans will be allowed at the game.
• FOX Sports Arizona, Comcast New Mexico, The ‘CW’ El Paso/Las Cruces, the FOX Sports GO app and the WAC Digital Network are all scheduled to televise the 25th all-time clash between the Aggies and Vaqueros. Adam Young and Rus Bradburd will be on the call from the Don Haskins Center.
• Over the airwaves, longtime NM State play-by-play man and US Bank/NM State Hall of Famer Jack Nixon will be on the from the Don Haskins Center. Locally, Nixon’s call can be heard 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), 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
• Dating back to 2013, the Aggies have won their last 12 regular season games in the month of March.
• NM State head coach Chris Jans is a perfect 4-0 in regular season games during the month of March as the Aggies’ bench boss.
• Tuesday morning’s game will be the second game NM State plays at the Don Haskins Center in the 2020-21 season.
• The Aggies are 10-1 (.909) in games played on Tuesday with Chris Jans as their head coach.
• Heading into Tuesday morning’s tilt with UTRGV, the Aggies sit in sixth place in the WAC standings. NM State has three regular season WAC games remaining on its 2020-21 schedule.
• NM State used its sixth different starting lineup of the 2020-21 campaign last Saturday night at Tarleton State. Sophomore guard Kalen Williams made his first start in an Aggie uniform.
• Junior forward Wilfried Likayi missed the Aggies’ last two games due to concussion protocol. Senior guard Evan Gilyard II missed NM State’s Saturday night game due to concussion protocol, too. It was Gilyard II’s first DNP due to injury in his Aggie career, snapping a 32-game streak of games played for the Chicago, Ill., product.
• Seniors Gilyard II and Donnie Tillman are approaching the 1,000-career point mark for their respective college careers. Gilyard II needs 70 points to get to quadruple digits while Tillman is 79 points away from that milestone.
• Gilyard II ranks among the nation’s best in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio. His figure of 2.50 is the second-highest in the WAC as well as the 39th-best among all NCAA Division I men’s basketball players.

SCOUTING UTRGV | ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS
• Someone will be putting the brakes on a losing skid Tuesday morning in El Paso, and behind the leadership of senior guard Javon Levi the Vaqueros are hoping they’ll be the ones to do it.
• With leading scorer Sean Rhea (15.2 ppg) making the announcement last week that he’ll be hitting the transfer portal, Levi joins Quinton Johnson II and Laquan Butler near the top of UTRGV’s scoring committed. The Killeen, Texas, product averages 10.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while also adding 5.8 assists and 3.3 steals per game making him one of the best all-around players in the WAC.
• Johnson II (12.1 ppg) and Butler (10.2 ppg) are the other two double-digit scorers the Vaqueros have at their disposal as they hope to put an end to an 18-game losing streak to NM State.
• Shot-blocking threat Jeff Otchere (2.4 blocks per game) returned to UTRGV’s lineup this past weekend, further solidifying the squad as a defensive-oriented one.
• UTRGV ranks among the top ten nationally in turnovers forced per game (second, 20.07), steals per game (third, 10.1), turnover margin (fifth, +5.5) and three-point field goal defense (fifth, 27.4-percent).
• Crashing the glass is a strong point for the Vaqueros, too, as they are fourth nationally in offensive rebounding (14.6 per game).

LAST TIME OUT vs. UTRGV | NM State 78, UTRGV 62 | Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020
• A celebratory mood enveloped the Aggies and their Pan Am Center faithful the last time NM State and UTRGV met. Not only did the hosts emerge as 78-62 victors over the Vaqueros, they claimed a third-consecutive WAC regular season title, too.
• Jabari Rice turned in a team-high 20 points to lead the Aggies while Terrell Brown came off the bench and dropped in 18 on 5-of-9 shooting to lift NM State to the victory.
• Ivan Aurrecoechea finished a point shy of a double-double, going for nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds to help his squad hold a 40-21 (+19) edge on the glass against their Texas adversaries.
• Free throw shooting helped the Aggies get the job done as they finished with a 10-point edge (18-8) in free throws made.
• The win was the 18th in a row for the Aggies over the Vaqueros and kept head coach Chris Jans‘ record against UTRGV perfect at 7-0. NM State moved to 11-1 all-time against UTRGV in the Pan Am Center with the win, too.
• All but five of the Aggies’ 24 field goal makes were assisted on in the victory with Rice passing out a team-high five.
• Bench production was especially helpful for the Aggies, too. NM State held a 25-10 (+15) edge in bench scoring over UTRGV.
• Javon Levi turned in a 13-point, 11-assist double-dobule for the Vaqueros in the losing effort. Lesley Varner II added a game-best 23 points for UTRGV, too.
• The game would prove to UTRGV head coach Lew Hill’s final one against the Aggies. Hill tragically passed away in his sleep on Feb. 7, 2021.

LAST TIME OUT | NM State 55, at Tarleton State 64 | Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021
• Tarleton State started the game on a 16-4 run through the first 8:30 and NM State could never fully recover from that initial offensive haymaker in a 64-55 setback to the Texans Saturday night at Wisdom Gym.
• With Evan Gilyard IIWilfried LikayiMayan KiirGerald DoakesJason King and Rashaun Agee all out of the Aggies’ lineup, NM State was short-handed from the jump.
• C.J. Roberts put in a team-high 12 points for the Aggies in his third start of the season while Johnny McCants added 11 points. The latter finished two rebounds shy of a double-double after sharing a game-best eight boards.
• Facing a deficit of as many as 14 points through the night, the Aggies pulled within six points twice in the second half but that was as close as NM State could get down the stretch.
• The loss was the Aggies’ first in program history against Tarleton State. NM State now holds an all-time record of 2-1 (.667) against the Texans.
• Both McCants (six) and Clayton Henry (five) matched their career highs in offensive rebounding in the setback. NM State held a 35-26 edge on the glass against their Lone Star State foes.
• McCants generated both of the Aggies’ blocked shots in the win, giving him a season-high in rejections during the loss.
• For only the second time this season, NM State dropped the back end of a two-game WAC series. Heading in to Saturday’s showdown, the Aggies had won three consecutive Saturday WAC tilts.
• The loss also put an end to the Aggies’ two-game WAC winning streak. It was the team’s first WAC winning streak since reeling off 31-straight regular season league wins from 2019-21.

THIS DATE IN NM STATE HISTORY
• For the second time in his tenure as the Aggies’ head coach, Chris Jans will be leading his squad into battle on March 2. Jans is 1-0 as NM State’s bench boss on this date after a 92-58 WAC triumph at Chicago State in 2019.
• That win in 2019 helped NM State put an end to a four-game losing skid in games played on March 2. All told, the Aggies are 13-10 (.565) in games played on March 2. 
• The Aggies’ first-ever game on March 2 came in 1917 when head coach Clarence Russell led NM State to a lopsided 60-15 victory over Western New Mexico in Las Cruces.

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