Having played two opponents twice in three days, the Aggies hope to keep doing what they have been able to accomplish so far again Friday night in Lubbock, Texas.
The Utah State men’s basketball team will face Mountain West Conference foe New Mexico for the second time at the Rip Griffin Center on the campus of Lubbock Christian University without fans. The Lobos are currently playing their home games four-and-a-half hours east of Albuquerque because of restrictions in the state of New Mexico. Tipoff Friday is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on FS1.
In the first meeting Wednesday night, the Aggies (8-3, 5-0 MW) closed the first half by outscoring the Lobos (3-5, 0-5) 35-7. USU trailed by five early on, but used the strong push to end the first half up 41-18. New Mexico got within 15 points, but then the Aggies put the game away with a 18-0 run and cruised to a 77-45 victory.
USU has been able to sweep two-game series from San Jose State and Air Force. Now the Aggies will try and do it a third time against New Mexico, who has lost five straight. The Lobos have been more competitive in the second game of their two previous series against Boise State and Nevada.
“This season is so different, so surreal,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “I give our guys a lot of credit ... when you are used to playing in front of 12,000 fans almost every night because we have some amazing venues in the Mountain West Conference with incredible arenas with a spirited atmosphere. So, when you are used to that, it’s really different. You have to be able to create your own energy.
“I thought our bench was really, really good tonight. Our energy with our bench got me pumped up. It really carried over and showed how those guys played.”
USU’s bench totaled 31 points to the Lobo reserves’ 23, marking the fifth consecutive game the Aggie bench has outscored their counterparts. USU also outscored New Mexico 46-12 in the paint and have outscored each of its last nine opponents from inside.
“We had to make sure we didn’t turn it over,” Smith said. “We didn’t want our offense to be their best offense. We just had to keep a body between them and the rim, not to over simplify that. They (Lobos) run a lot of different things and post a lot of guys up.”
The win Wednesday night was the seventh straight for the Aggies. During the streak USU has been stingy on defense, which was the case again Wednesday night. New Mexico shot just 26.8 percent from the field and made only 5 of 21 from 3-point range (23.8 percent).
“We worked a lot this week (before the Wednesday game) on helping each other out,” said Aggie forward Alphonso Anderson, who had 14 points off the bench Wednesday. “We studied the VCU game a lot because they run a similar offense.”
Anderson had one of 10 blocked shots recorded by USU. Neemias Queta led the way with five — increased from the three he originally was given credit for as there were issues with the statistics following the game. Justin Bean had a season-high three blocks.
Queta needs just two more blocks to tie Gilbert Pete for the career blocks record at USU at 155. The junior center is averaging 4.4 blocks a game in conference play and 2.8 per game for the season.
The Aggies continue to crash the boards. They have outrebounded every opponent this season, but Wednesday was even more impressive as the Lobos came into the game as one of the top rebounding teams in the country. USU outrebounded New Mexico, 41-29.
“We finished possessions with two-handed rebounds, and we knew it was not going to be a two-man deal with Bean and Queta,” Smith said. “It had to be a five-man deal.”
It was a balanced attack on the boards. In fact, the top two rebounders on the team — Queta and Bean who combine for more than 17 a game — had seven between them Wednesday. Queta matched teammates Rollie Worster, who had a career high, and Trevin Dorius with game bests of six rebounds each. Bean did not get credit for several obvious rebounds in the second half. Seven Aggies had at least three rebounds. Marco Anthony and Anderson had five each.
Bean led the Aggies in assists with four, while Anthony had three.
Now the Aggies must reset and prepare for whatever adjustments the Lobos will make to try and make the second game more competitive.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice, especially after you have a big win margin like this,” Anderson said. “They (Lobos) are going to come out hungry and ready to rock. We will go back, scout and find out what we need to work on. We need to prepare like it is the first game and be ready for anything.”
Four Aggies go into Friday’s game averaging double figures in scoring in Anthony (13.0), Queta (12.4), Bean (11.5) and Worster (10.4). Those four are starters with Brock Miller, who is averaging 8.5 on the season, but 11.8 in MW games.