Aggies Search For First Win In Menzies Era

Written by: Jason Groves/Sun-News Reporter

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - New Mexico State seeks its first victory of the season tonight at the Pan American Center after a pair of road losses over the weekend.

After suffering an 86-61 loss at No. 13 Duke on Monday, Aggies coach Marvin Menzies had a message for former NMSU coach Reggie Theus.

"I'm going to have to send Reggie a Thank You card for this schedule," Menzies said.

On Friday, the Aggies fell to Ohio 80-72 to open the season.

The Aggies wrapped up a long trip with a practice in Durham, N.C., on Tuesday and returned to Las Cruces Tuesday night. They host University of California-Davis tonight at 7 p.m. Tonight's game is the opening round of the inaugural Legends Classic, that concludes at the Prudential Center in New Jersey on Nov. 23-24, when the Aggies face No. 16 Texas on Nov. 23 and either No. 7 Tennessee or West Virginia the following night.

"We have a schedule that consists of some intense travel along with some distance involved," Menzies said after Monday's game. "I'm not trying to make excuses but we've got to just stay positive and get back up on the horse right away."

Menzies sees similarities between this year's team and the squad that finished 25-9 and won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament last year, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Injuries depleted the Aggies' front line last year and the Aggies got off to a 1-3 start. This year, Menzies is awaiting NCAA eligibility clearance for 6-foot-8 freshman forward Herb Pope and freshman guard Jahmar Young. Former Aggie forward Tyrone Nelson was dismissed from the team during the summer for charges stemming from the robbery of a pizza delivery man. NMSU freshman forward Wendell McKines had to play catch up, gaining clearance before the Aggies' exhibition season. McKines had a career high 10 points and five rebounds off the bench on Monday.

"We are hoping history repeats itself and I am optimistic that it will," Menzies said.

U.C. Davis was 5-23 last year. The U.C. Davis Aggies, coached by Gary Steward, won their opener against La Verne 97-55 on Sunday. Shane Hanson scored 24 points and was 4-for-6 from behind the 3-point line. The Aggies had five players in double-digits with junior guard Vince Oliver scoring 14 points.

"They are disciplined and they shoot the ball well," NMSU assistant coach John McMullen said.

McMullen said the players and coaches are hungry for their first win in the Menzies era.

"If they aren't, there is something wrong," McMullen said. "I know the coaches are for sure."

Hawkins stands out

NMSU senior forward Justin Hawkins recorded his second double-double of the season on Monday, leading the Aggies with 16 points and 11 rebounds against Duke. He led the team with 19 points and 11 boards against Ohio.

When Hawkins hit a layup early on Monday, he topped the 1,000-point career mark, becoming the 23rd Aggie player to do so.

Hawkins is one of four players who started in both games. Menzies started a smaller lineup against Duke on Monday. U.C. Davis is also undersized in the paint. At 6-foot-7, Hanson started at center, alongside 6-7 redshirt freshman Mark Payne and 6-7 C.J. Portz.

Hawkins started at the power forward on Monday with senior center Hatila Passos and Fred Peete at the small forward. Sophomore Chris Cole started at the point guard spot and Jonathan Gibson started at shooting guard.

McKines and freshman point guard JayDee Luster saw seven minutes on Monday, joining Paris Carter and Martin Iti as Menzies' primary rotation.

"It's taking some time for that chemistry to develop," McMullen said.

The game is available on AggieVision and on KGRT 103.9 FM.

Jason Groves can be reached at jgroves@lcsun-news.com