The atmosphere at Saturday's noon game between the Golden Lions of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and New Mexico State was quite different from the Aggies' Wednesday sellout against the University of New Mexico. Even by halftime, the crowd was very small and quiet. Here's the view from my seat.
The Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions are truly road warriors, playing their third game in four days after competing in the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso earlier in the week, but still three games away from their first home game of the season. Their schedule includes only nine home games, all against the other members of the SWAC. (Brandon Hickey wrote a good story about their travels and travails earlier in the project, covering their game at Akron) Entering the NMSU game, their record was 1-11. Their lone win was in Tulsa against Isaiah Thomas's Florida International team in the consolation rounds of the Preseason NIT.
The game began with NMSU fans wondering why there were only nine players on the bench. Of the eighteen players listed in the program, one is a non-qualifier, five are redshirting, and freshman guard Terrell DeRouen had a season-ending knee injury against McNeese State. Also missing were normal starting guard Christian Kabongo and reserve forward Renaldo Dixon; both had played in the New Mexico game. I saw Dixon in his warmup suit on the concourse as I came in to the arena, and he sat behind the Aggie bench during the game. After the game, Coach Menzies said only that not suiting them up was a coach's decision, and that they would not be on the road trip to Bakersfield for Monday's game. Kabongo was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman guard Daniel Mullings.
The Golden Lions came out hot, scoring on five of their first six attempts to take a 10-8 advantage into the first timeout. Next came a 15-6 Aggie run, primarily based on the difference in rebounding; the Aggies have a size advantage over most opponents this season. After a mid-half lull in shooting (each team only scored once in a four-minute period), a second Aggie run made the halftime score 45-32. Surprisingly, the Aggies had four first-half #superhoops by four different players.
After the halftime karate exhibition, the Aggies pushed their lead to 17, but the shortness of the NMSU bench allowed the deeper Golden Lions to make a run and the Aggie lead was only seven with six minutes to play. Several of the Arkansas-Pine Bluff players had excellent games. Wing Mitchell Anderson was the leader with 20 points, many of them backdoor layups, again exposing a defensive area exploited by Arizona, UTEP and New Mexico in earlier games. Guard Savalace Townsend contributed 13; both Anderson and Townsend played all 40 minutes. Center Daniel Broughton scored 14, despite spending time on the bench with foul issues. Only one year removed from their last NCAA appearance, despite their record so far, I expect the Golden Lions will compete well in the SWAC this year.
Forward Wendell McKines, as usual, led the Aggies with 22 points and 14 rebounds, his eighth double-double of the season. The NMSU scoring was very balanced, with three other starters and reserve Bandja Sy all scoring in double figures. The Aggies cruised to an 81-65 victory, and headed directly to the airport for a trip to Bakersfield for Monday's last non-conference game before the WAC slate begins next Saturday at Louisiana Tech. The Golden Lions head directly to conference play. Three road games (what else is new?!) to start their SWAC season will take them to Mississippi Valley State, Alabama A&M and Alabama State. Their home opener will be January 14 against Southern.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 81, ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF 65 12/31/2011
ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF 1-12 (0-0) -- M. Anderson 8-22 2-3 20; S. Townsend 6-13 0-0 13; C. Jones 1-3 2-2 4; D. Broughton 7-12 0-1 14; A. Allen 2-3 0-0 4; J. Harris 0-0 0-0 0; L. Jackson 1-1 2-2 5; L. Weathers 2-3 1-2 5; D. Nelson 0-2 0-0 0; J. Floyd 0-0 0-0 0; R. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-59 7-10 65. NEW MEXICO STATE 9-5 (0-0) -- W. McKines 7-14 8-9 22; H. Laroche 5-8 4-5 15; D. Mullings 3-10 3-4 11; T. Watson 1-1 0-0 2; B. Sy 5-10 0-0 13; T. Nephawe 2-4 0-0 4; H. Rahman 2-4 7-14 11; R. Barry 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 26-54 22-32 81.
Three-point goals: UAPB 4-11 (S. Townsend 1-3; M. Anderson 2-6; L. Jackson 1-1; D. Nelson 0-1), NMSU 7-16 (W. McKines 0-3; H. Laroche 1-2; B. Sy 3-6; R. Barry 1-3; D. Mullings 2-2); Rebounds: UAPB 24 (S. Townsend 6), NMSU 41 (W. McKines 14); Assists: UAPB 10 (S. Townsend 5), NMSU 13 (W. McKines 4); Total Fouls -- UAPB 22, NMSU 13; Fouled Out: UAPB-None; NMSU-None.