Friday, January 13, 2012

NMSU hoops analysis: To run away from Utah State, Aggies pushed ball to the basket

Saturday’s game for the New Mexico State Aggies — an 80-60 home triumph over Utah State — could be a defining game for this season.

Better yet, the second half of the game could have been a defining moment of their season.

The Aggies turned the ball over just six times on the evening — an outstanding number.

They look like a better team without Christian Kabongo — who knows how this game would have ended up with Kabongo in the lineup, but freshman Daniel Mullings has been impressive. Certainly the six turnovers for the Aggies would have been higher.

But, most importantly, the Aggies pushed the ball to the basket. They created early offense in the shot clock, got to the front of the rim, and to the free-throw line.

Such a game reaffirmed a basic fact that we already knew earlier this season: When the Aggies get stops on defense, they can beat an unorganized opponent down the court and score the ball.

For this, we’ll look at two games from this season, last night’s being the first.

The first half ended with the game tied at 34-34, with Utah State going toe-to-toe with the Aggies and NMSU playing in their halfcourt offense, which frankly can be offensive — lots of standing, dribbling and not a lot of movement away from the basketball.

But in the second half, Utah State shot poorly over the Aggie zone defense, going 1 for 10 from beyond the arc and shooting 39 percent in the second half. This low percentage helped the Aggies get into the open floor and get the ball inside.

Players like Mullings, Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson all got involved in the action, and the Aggies hit 14 of 20 attempts from the free-throw line.

There were also other factors for the Aggies ability to get the ball to the basket, namely Utah State’s preference to double-team the NMSU post players, which opened driving lanes for other Aggies. And they won in emphatic fashion.

Now we’ll shift to another game, an early-season home contest against the University of New Mexico.

UNM hit 12 of 24 from 3-point land and 17 of 20 from the free-throw line and the Aggies were forced to play out of their halfcourt offense for much of the night — and it wasn’t pretty. NMSU is without consistent outside shooting and one of their go-to players in the halfcourt is Hamidu Rahman, who I would rather have helping other players get open, not trying to create his own offense.

This was written on the Cruces Sports Blog following that game:

Simply put, (the Aggies) couldn't score the ball, not with UNM draining a barrage of jump shots and layups.

NMSU doesn't have enough offense to score to win in a halfcourt game and need their defense to generate their offensive attack — rebounding the basketball and creating turnovers generally translate into easy baskets on the other end of the floor.

They have athletes — Sy simply looks better when taking the ball to the to the basket with aggression, and Mullings has been impressive as a freshman, particularly on the defensive end of the floor — he’s a quick player who can get steals, a leaper who can block shots.

And that’s when the Aggies are playing at their best, when they’re creating turnovers and getting into their fastbreak. While Saturday didn’t go exactly like that — Utah State can live with their 10-turnover number — certainly USU’s long-range misses helped the Aggies push the ball to the basket, and then finish the game.

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