Lobos face NMSU’s hot-shooting Harris
Spud Webb once was stopped by security guards in The Pit during the 1985 NCAA Tournament as he was coming down the narrow stairway leading from what was then the parking lot to the locker rooms.
At 5-foot-7, it seemed the future NBA All-Star dunk champion didn’t quite pass the eye test for being a college basketball player despite averaging 11.1 points and 5.3 assists that season for North Carolina State.
That same spot used as a road block for Webb is where New Mexico State guard A.J. Harris, 5-foot-9, stood when talking to the media after leading the Aggies to a 98-94 win over the Lobos two weeks ago. Harris had the game of his life that night, hitting nine of his 11 shots to help NMSU build a 19-point lead in the second half.
On Tuesday at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, he’ll go for an encore as the Aggies look for their second straight season sweep in the Rio Grande Rivalry with Round 2 of Aggies-Lobos.
NMSU (6-1) is coming off its first win over a Power-5 program at home in 16 years, beating Washington State on Saturday for its fourth straight victory that began with its win in The Pit on Nov. 17.
Harris is the team’s leading scorer (12.8 points) and playmaker (2.2 assists), but expecting him to drop 31 points on the Lobos like the last time is asking a lot from a player not known as an explosive scorer.
UNM (4-1) is coming off its second road win of the season, spotting Bradley an 11-0 lead and then storming in front by as many as 16 before settling for a 10-point win Saturday in Peoria, Ill. The Lobos started three freshmen, giving valuable experience to a team that gives plenty of minutes to seven first- and second-year players.
“It speaks to a lot of different things going on in our program that I’m really excited about,” head coach Paul Weir said.
He said his team looked as good as it has all season for about 25 minutes. The Lobos outscored the Braves by 27 points by upping the tempo, hitting shots and playing tough, mistake-free defense.
Of course, it helped to have Anthony Mathis shooting the lights out. The senior guard hit seven 3-pointers and continuing his play as one of the top shooters in the country. Through five games, he is 23-for-38 from 3-point range, averaging a team-best 17.8 points per game.
When he avoids foul trouble, he’s as good and as dangerous as anyone at his position. Fouls are what kept him off the court for crucial stretches in the first game against the Aggies.
Weir said he showed tape of last year’s team to this year’s team as a means to show them how much last year’s club, arguably far less talented than this year’s team, hustled its way to success. “It wasn’t a film session to tell our guys, ‘you know, you suck and last year’s team was the greatest,’ ” Weir said. “It was, ‘this is what we’re still working toward.’ ”
What the film didn’t reveal was an answer for stopping Harris, a player that will clearly be a focal point Tuesday.