Things are looking a little like a transition year in Las Cruces at the moment. As California Baptist traveled to the Pan AM center Saturday night for a road matchup worth plenty.
For the Lancers, it meant their second straight WAC win and putting some respect on the program’s name. For the hosting Aggies, it meant avoiding a very ugly conference losing streak that has fans in Las Cruces on edge.
Things began rocky, including a very interesting tactic by Aggie head coach Greg Heiar to start things off. Heiar had a brand new starting five combination and in turn subbing them out for five more players within two minutes after falling behind scoreless immediately.
New Mexico State eventually began to click and brought their deficit to single digits several times in the second-half. But, the Aggies never got over the hump. The Lancers never slipped up and were able to hold out for what should still be looked at as a quality 70-61 road win in Las Cruces.
Nothing Special To Secure The Win
California Baptist has struggled with their identity all season. That identity being 3-point shooting, something they’ve done at an elite rate in their first three seasons transitioning to the Division I level.
Lancer coach Rick Croy hit the transfer portal during the offseason to secure one of the best 3-point shooters on the West Coast in former LMU guard Joe Quintana. Unfortunately, the 6-2 graduate transfer hasn’t been immune from California Baptist’s shooting woes, posting a career low 28.7 percent from deep.
Saturday night was no different. But California Baptist didn’t need to be the Lancers of old to secure the road win. They just needed to outwork their opponent and knock done the right shots when necessary. Croy’s squad out-rebounded the Aggies, 34-25, including 11 offensive rebounds while capitalizing for 23 second-chance points.
As mentioned before, the Aggies eventually found a rotation that clicked. But, it was a little too late as California Baptist had already found their winning formula and stuck to it. The Aggies were out-hustled, fell behind early and were never able to take the lead. In fact, the Lancers led nearly the entire 40 minutes.
Despite the Aggies finding some success from their unorthodox rotation choice, the Aggies were in catch up mode all night. New Mexico State took advantage of opportunities at the free throw line, shooting 80 percent (16-20) on free ones while also outscoring the Lancers 38-17 in bench points.
And every time the Aggies cut into the deficit in the second half, the Lancers had a response. The Aggies brought the deficit down to just 1-point with less then 10 minutes left. But, California Baptist went on an 18-4 run to separate themselves from their hosts and seal the deal.
It was the Aggies fourth WAC loss and first 0-4 conference start since the program played in the Sun Belt nearly two decades ago. Things are a bit bleak at the moment but far from over,
The Silver Lining
California Baptist hasn’t received much recognition in the WAC resume seeding rankings. In the conference’s inaugural season using the system, the Lancers have nine wins, all against Division I teams but came into this one ranked 10th behind New Mexico State. Beating the team directly in front of you in 9th place isn’t the biggest resume booster. But it’s a start for a team with plenty of potential.
For the Aggies, a willingness for head coach Greg Heiar to experiment with his roster and try new things is progress. It is obvious his team is deep with talented and athletic players in abundance. But that is all they have at the moment. With four conferences losses and plenty of tough games ahead on the schedule.
New Mexico State-G Deshawndre Washington
Washington was once again the best player on the floor for New Mexico State. The 6-7 point-forward posted a very solid 20 points, three rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes. Aside from leading all scorers with 20 points, his 17-point second half outburst put his scoring abilities on full display. Even though it wasn’t enough to help his team secure the win, it’s a step forward towards more efficient performances for one of Heiar’s best players.
4️⃣2️⃣ drains the triple?#AggieUp pic.twitter.com/X13sFVinXh
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) January 8, 2023
California Baptist-F Riley Battin
The 6-9, 230-pound guard/forward never had his “breakout” season during his time in Salt Lake City. But Battin was a consistent force and starter under two different coaching staffs. Now in Riverside for Croy, Battin is beginning to put things together, with his best performance of the season (18 points, four rebounds and three assists) coming at a much needed time. While his squad continues to struggle shooting the basketball, Battin had season highs shooting 6-9 from the floor and 3-6 from deep in just 28 minutes on the floor.
☑️No look bounce pass from Taran!
☑️No doubt straight away three from Battin!
☑️ Timeout Aggies and Lancer momentum!#LanceUp⚔️ pic.twitter.com/OtfaUZrFDZ
— California Baptist Men's Basketball (@CBUmbb) January 8, 2023
California Baptist heads home for a three-game homestand starting against Utah Valley on Wednesday. It won’t be easy, but a home court advantage is still a home court advantage. Next week may be a tough seven days hosting Mark Madsen’s squad and then Grand Canyon on Saturday. CBU will have a week off until their last home game of the stretch against Tarleton the following Saturday.
The Lancers mid-week matchup against the red hot Wolverines squad, with wins over in-state powerhouse BYU and Pac-12 foe Oregon, can be streamed on ESPN+ at 7:00 p.m. PT.
New Mexico State heads on the road to the Pacific Northwest to take on Seattle and one of the best scorers in the country Cameron Tyson. Trying to find your first conference win on the road against one of the better teams in the WAC is a tall task. But Heiar’s squad doesn’t have a ton of options at the moment and are in need of a win.
New Mexico State’s road showdown inside the Redhawk Center can be streamed on ESPN+ Thursday, January 12 at 8:00 p.m. MT.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.