LAS CRUCES — To state the obvious: Losing in embarrassing fashion last week to a Cal Baptist team making its Western Athletic Conference debut as a transition team to Division I wasn’t part of the New Mexico State plan.
Now the league-favorite Aggies (11-4, 0-1) suddenly face a sense of urgency going into the two-game home stand against two teams above them in the standings — Grand Canyon (9-6, 2-0) tonight and Cal State Bakersfield (10-5, 2-0) on Saturday.
“They are coming in at 2-0 and it’s a road game for them with nothing lose, and they know we have our backs against the wall in a very early season matchup,” NMSU coach Chris Jans told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
While it’s still too early to panic over one conference road loss, Jans is eager to build on the Aggies résumé and hold serve at the Pan Am Center in the second weekend of league play.
“Right now I’m pretty agitated that we haven’t had a better record, just from our mentality, but at the same time, we haven’t peaked or gotten close to peaking,” Jans said.
Bakersfield and Grand Canyon each opened conference play last week with home victories over Seattle and Utah Valley.
Today’s matchup pits the league’s top two teams, according to the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings that essentially replaced the Ratings Percantage Index (RPI). The Aggies are 109th, Grand Canyon 117th of 353 teams nationally.
The Aggies are 10-2 all time against GCU and never has lost to the coach Dan Majerle’s Lopes in the Pan Am Center. Sophomore Alessandro Lever is averaging 14.9 points per game, but 19.8 over their last five.
“(Grand Canyon) is big and physical and they really guard,” Jans said. “Their thickness and their size all the way one through five and their committed to rebound the basketball. They are definitely a defensive-minded team.”
Senior guard A.J. Harris, at 11.1 points per game, leads a balanced NMSU attack. Three Aggies score in double figures, including one (guard Terrell Brown at 10.5 per game) off the bench.
In the week since the 82-76 loss to Cal Baptist, Jans told the Sun-News he has been addressing some of his team’s defensive deficiencies.
New Mexico State’s opponents are shooting 43.8 percent from the field, a significant change from the 39.8 clip allowed a year ago. Cal Baptist shot 49 percent against the Aggies.
“Anytime you lose a game, you have their attention a little bit more,” Jans said. “If you are going to grab their attention, unfortunately my experience says you usually have it more after a loss.”