Wednesday night's matchup between the McNeese State Cowboys and the New Mexico State Aggies was the first time the two teams had met since 1956, so there is not a lot of history to write about. The Cowboys came to Las Cruces with a 4-5 record, but three of the wins were against schools outside of Division I (the exception a five-point win at Sacramento State). McNeese dropped a two-point game a week ago at Louisiana Tech and suffered a 15-point defeat at UTEP on Monday. New Mexico State began the evening 7-4, with two losses to Southern Mississippi and one each to Arizona and UTEP. This was the third of a five-game Aggie home stand, with wins over Western New Mexico and Southern in the prior week; what's more, this was a game the Aggies might have looked past with the rematch of the Rio Grande Rivalry with New Mexico coming next week.
What felt like it would be a small holiday crowd grew to nearly 5,000. Santa danced with all the kids at halftime (that was a little strange), and besides supporting the home team, the crowd reacted well to the usual promotions: "tees for threes," the kiss cam, and the Lorenzo's pizza giveaway.
Aggie guard Christian Kabongo returned to the court after a two-game suspension related to unsportsmanlike conduct in the Aggies' game at UTEP; he overreacted to a hostile crowd and embarrassed himself and the program with inappropriate gestures. He did not start tonight, but played significant minutes; his stats (15 points) were padded with some late baskets after the game was essentially decided.
The Aggies scored first and never looked back. Their ball-hawking defense was good early as the lead built to 11 around the middle of the first half; as they have much of the year, the Aggies pressed full-court on almost every McNeese possession. Offensively, the Cowboys kept the game close early by shooting over the zone (three #superhoops in each half), and having their outstanding guards (Patrick Richard, Jeremie Mitchell and Dontae Cannon) penetrate for easy layups -- an area the Aggies will need to work on defensively. The three guards scored 42 of McNeese's 62 points in the game.
For the Aggies, effective defense against opposing guards also became more difficult from this game forward. Freshman backup point guard Terrel De Rouen, a fan favorite from local Oñate High School who was beginning to impress with his steady play, injured a knee with about three minutes to go in the first half. He was on the bench in street clothes for the second half, wearing a brace and using crutches to get around. An MRI on Thursday will help determine the severity of the injury.
Inside, the Aggie size advantage was difficult for the Cowboys. Center Rudy Turner got three early fouls, and got his fifth with eight and a half minutes left in the game, and neither Daniel Richard nor Will Brown was large enough to be effective in relief.
The Aggies continue to lead the country in getting to the free throw line, shooting 33 tonight compared to McNeese's 14. For this to help them later in the season, New Mexico State will need to start making a better percentage. Only twice did the Aggies make both of two shots in the game. Center Hamidu Rahman did a fine job of taking the ball inside and getting fouled, but he only made five of his twelve attempts, and the other Aggies were no better. Patrick Richard made all eight of his attempts for the Cowboys, and no one else made one.
The Aggies' effort was again led by Wendell McKines. The redshirt senior scored 23 points, including four #superhoops, and gathered a career-high 17 rebounds. It was McKines's sixth double-double of the season. To Kabongo's 15 points, junior wing Bandja Sy added 13. Sy's improvement continues to amaze; he had no idea what he was doing on the court as a freshman two years ago, having been primarily a soccer player in his native France, but he continues to learn the game and is now a real asset, with a few spectacular dunks around his consistent 15-20 foot jumper. Sy is also becoming an asset on defense, long at 6-8 but quick enough to cover most opponents' shooting guards.
Patrick Richard was excellent for McNeese, scoring 21, making all his free throws, and providing excellent floor leadership. He alone was not enough, though, and the fatigue of a long road swing was apparent for many of the Cowboys. The Aggies prevailed 82-62. Next up for the Cowboys is a New Year's Eve home game against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. Next Wednesday, the Aggies renew the Rio Grande Rivalry hosting New Mexico, who has gone on a real tear since the Aggies won in Albuquerque, beating Arizona State, Washington State, Missouri State, USC, and Oklahoma State, among others.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 82, MCNEESE STATE 62 12/21/2011
MCNEESE STATE 4-7 (0-0) -- P. Richard 6-12 8-8 21; D. Cannon 4-11 0-0 9; J. Mitchell 5-9 0-0 12; D. Guidry 3-8 0-2 6; D. Richard 1-2 0-4 2; T. Queen 0-4 0-0 0; R. Turner 2-5 0-0 4; A. Fields 2-4 0-0 5; K. Hardy 1-3 0-0 3; B. Regis 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 24-58 8-15 62. NEW MEXICO STATE 8-4 (0-0) -- W. McKines 9-13 1-1 23; H. Laroche 3-4 0-0 8; C. Kabongo 7-10 1-2 15; T. Watson 0-1 0-0 0; B. Sy 5-9 3-5 13; H. Rahman 2-3 5-12 9; D. Mullings 2-5 5-8 9; T. Nephawe 0-3 2-2 2; R. Dixon 1-1 1-2 3; T. de Rouen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-50 18-32 82.
Three-point goals: MCN 6-19 (P. Richard 1-4; J. Mitchell 2-6; D. Cannon 1-4; T. Queen 0-1; A. Fields 1-1; K. Hardy 1-3), NMSU 6-14 (W. McKines 4-5; H. Laroche 2-3; B. Sy 0-3; C. Kabongo 0-2; T. de Rouen 0-1); Rebounds: MCN 29 (D. Guidry 7), NMSU 36 (W. McKines 17); Assists: MCN 8 (D. Cannon 4), NMSU 13 (H. Laroche 6); Total Fouls -- MCN 21, NMSU 14; Fouled Out: MCN-R. Turner; NMSU-None.