By Dave Wagner
The Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team can only hope the Christmas break didn’t come at a bad time.
The Greyhounds (4-6), who haven’t played since thrashing a decent St. Mary’s squad 79-41 on Dec. 19 at Las Vegas, Nev., return to game action with a 7 p.m. contest today against Division I New Mexico State at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
“It was a good game to go into the break with,” ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan acknowledged of the St. Mary’s romp. “Unfortunately, it was kind of an exception to the rule for us. But if we can build on that game, it’ll be good for us.”
Junior guard Jason Breland scored a season-best 17 points against St. Mary’s (8-4) on 8-of-9 shooting as the Hounds, beaten the day before by Pittsburg State 83-63, dominated the Rattlers start to finish.
“It was one of our best games of the year,” he said. “I was getting open looks and just taking what the defense was giving me.
“We came out and executed on both offense and defense. St. Mary’s is a good team, but I guess everybody just decided after (Saturday’s loss) that we needed to start playing.”
Scanlan said the Hounds will base much of what they do tonight on film of last year’s game at NMSU, won by the Aggies 78-44. He said New Mexico State (3-7), currently on a five-game losing streak, does not exchange film with its opponents.
“It’ll be kind of a ‘blind’ game,” he said. “We’ve contacted some of their recent opponents and (try to) see what info they’re willing to share.”
Scanlan isn’t sure what to expect tonight, but he wasn’t pleased with some of the Hounds’ practices after they returned on Sunday from a brief layoff.
“There’s not a lot of bounce in our step right now,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go to get ready for (this game).”
The Aggies are without 72-year-old coaching legend Lou Henson, who was diagnosed in 2003 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, and was then hospitalized in September with what turned out to be viral encephalitis. Associate head coach Tony Stubblefield is running the team in his absence.
NMSU is looking for its first win in December, having dropped four in a row against rivals New Mexico and Texas-El Paso before losing at UC-Irvine in its most recent outing on Dec. 21.
The Hounds are still trying to get to full strength. Senior guard Jamal Washington, who missed the first eight games with a staph infection, is working his way back into shape while junior forward Daniel Sherman is playing but still not completely recovered from an ankle injury sustained in early December.
“We’re suffering from injuries, but we’re trying to get each other’s back,” Montoya said. “It’s just up to the other players to step up.”
Meantime, junior point guard Jolen Montoya is back after missing the Las Vegas trip due to a family matter, but junior guard Reggie Wallace won’t return to Portales until next week because of the death of a cousin in California.
After tonight’s game, the Hounds play exclusively in the Lone Star Conference the rest of the season. They have four crossover games remaining against the North before beginning their South Division slate against Texas A&M-Commerce on Jan. 20 at Greyhound Arena.
What: ENMU (4-6) at New Mexico State (3-7), 7 p.m. today at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
Of note: The Greyhounds have been idle since Dec. 19, when they routed St. Mary’s 79-41 in Las Vegas, Nev. NMSU’s last outing was on Dec. 21, a 75-62 loss at UC-Irvine. … The Aggies have lost five in a row since an 81-55 win over Lone Star Conference South Division member Midwestern State on Nov. 27. They lost home-and-home series with rivals New Mexico and Texas-El Paso before their setback in California against the Anteaters. … Senior F Jamaal Hunnicutt leads the Hounds in scoring (13.8) and rebounding (6.2), while junior G Jolen Montoya (10.3) and senior G Irshaun Pinckney (10.0) are also scoring in double figures. … Leaders for the Aggies are 6-11 junior C Trevor Lawrence (11.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 59 percent FG shooting) and 6-0 junior G Mike Mitchell (11.8 ppg, 2.7 apg). … While veteran NMSU coach Lou Henson has not been on the sidelines this year due to viral encephalitis, he is still credited with the team’s results. Thus, his 778 wins in 41-plus seasons ties him with Jerry Tarkanian for sixth all-time in wins for Division I coaches and second among active coaches, behind Texas Tech’s Bob Knight. He is the winningest coach at both NMSU, where he’s had two stints, and at Illinois, where he coached 21 seasons. … NMSU named the court at the Pan Am Center “Lou Henson Court” in 2002. … The Aggies beat ENMU 78-44 at Las Cruces last year, and lead the all-time series 19-4. The teams first met in the 1948-49 season, with the Hounds beating then-New Mexico A&M 56-49 in Portales and the Aggies taking a 74-41 triumph in Las Cruces.