WAC Tournament Preview: Aggies, Lopes – Part III

Aggies
Teddy Allen (0) and New Mexico State take on GCU in the WAC Vegas semifinals on Friday night at the Orleans Arena. Courtesy NMSU Athletics.

The New Mexico State Aggies and Grand Canyon Lopes will not meet for a WAC Tournament championship. Yes, you read that correctly. In the last three WAC Tournament’s that have been played, GCU and New Mexico State have met in the title game. The Aggies have won two of the three matchups.

On Friday night at the Orleans Arena, the Aggies and Lopes will meet once again. This time for a chance to go to the WAC Tournament title game. And there are a ton of storylines surrounding what should be a near-sellout.

  • Was GCU’s run to a tournament title in 2020-21 a fluke?
  • Johnny McCants, Clayton Henry and Donnie Tillman all came back to NMSU after last season to win a title
  • It’s Aggies vs. Lopes – do you need anymore explanation?
  • GCU swept season series last season; NMSU swept season series this season
  • No love lost between the fan bases

And it could just go on and on.

Grand Canyon 23-7 (13-5 in the WAC)

Five straight wins. Two of the best guards in the WAC. Big men finally playing well, especially on defense. Defending champs. Swept Seattle and Utah Valley. Beat SFA and Sam (twice). Had a big non-conference win over San Francisco.

You get the picture. Pretty successful season so far for the Lopes.

However, there is one team they were unable to beat. That pesky squad from Las Cruces who handed the Lopes a pair of double digit losses during the regular season. Yep, that sam Aggie squad that GCU beat three times in 2020-21.

So, what will GCU do for an encore? The Lopes haven’t lost since Feb. 19 when New Mexico State led from wire-to-wire in an 82-66 win in Phoenix.

Can Holland Woods and Jovan Blacksher Jr. carry the Lopes to the WAC title game? Will the GCU bigs be able to hold down the paint? A lot of questions surround Friday night’s contest.

Player to Watch

Fr. G Chance McMillian

Everyone knows about Holland Woods and Jovan Blacksher Jr. That guard duo can take over a game at any moment. The key on Friday night will be to get some offensive output from a third player. Chance McMillian has been really good off the bench for GCU this season. McMillian’s stats don’t jump off the page at you. The freshman guard is averaging 5.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting about 37 percent from the field. But, McMillian’s athleticism, quickness and ability to shoot the 3 make him Bryce Drew’s go-to guy off the bench. In Thursday’s win over Sam Houston, McMillian had 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes. Keep an eye on the young freshman and if is able to produce off the bench Friday.

New Mexico State 24-6 (14-4 in the WAC)

Johnny McCants came back to win a WAC title after the chaotic 2020-21 season. Aggie fans say there should be an asterisk next to GCU’s 2020-21 WAC regular season and tournament titles. Certain players and coaches have referred to GCU as a rival. Others disagree. Teddy Allen wanted to play for a winner, which is a big reason he is at New Mexico State. And it just goes on, and on.

And on Friday night at the Orleans Arena, the Aggies get a chance at tournament redemption. The best part is it comes against GCU who ended the Aggies’ 2020-21 season with a 74-56 win in the WAC Tournament Championship.

New Mexico State swept both meetings against the Lopes this season. The Aggies had to use a big second half to beat GCU, 71-61, in Las Cruces. And then in a highlight game on Feb. 19 in Phoenix, the Aggies led wire-to-wire in a dominating 82-66 win. The win in Phoenix was a game that head coach Chris Jans said was the best overall game the Aggies had played to that point.

Johnny McCants, Clayton Henry and Donnie Tillman all came back to New Mexico State after last season for some redemption. Remember, the Aggies didn’t get to play a game at the Pan American Center, had to spend over a month in a hotel in Phoenix, missed multiple games and couldn’t practice fully as a team due to COVID.

So, what will the winners of three of the last four WAC tournament titles do for an encore? It begins Friday night at the Orleans Arena.

Player to Watch

RS Jr. Guard Teddy Allen

This is a pretty easy choice. As the WAC Player of the Year goes, so goes New Mexico State. In the six games that New Mexico State lost this season, Allen averaged a little over 15 points per game. In the wins, Allen averaged 20.5 points per game. The Nebraska transfer led the WAC in scoring at 19.4 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. Allen also pulled down seven rebounds per game. So, as Teddy ‘Buckets’ goes, so goes New Mexico State. In the two games against GCU this season, Allen had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting. And in the second meeting, Allen went for 30 points and 10 rebounds in his hometown.

What will GCU vs. New Mexico State, Part II bring on Friday night at the Orleans Arena? The atmosphere will be electric. Two teams who have no love lost between each other. All-WAC selections going head-to-head. The 2021-22 WAC Player of the Year vs. the 2020-21 WAC Tournament MVP.

It has all the makings for an instant classic.

Tip-off is at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN+.

 

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